Love: Parent Love

I am comfortable with using “Father” in describing the first person of the Trinity, and that’s because I had a great dad.  But I recognize many are not comfortable with “father” language, and I respect that.  Some are uncomfortable because they did not have good fathers.

Others are uncomfortable because they rightly recognize that God’s nature cannot be masculinized; indeed that the Bible itself affirms the feminine in God (e.g. Gen 1:2, Gen 17:1, Ps 22:10, Ps 131:2, Isa 42:14, Isa 49:15, Isa 66:13, Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34, and Lk 15:8-10).  [1]

Therefore, in this post I envision love in the first person of the Trinity as inclusive of the kind of love we experience from both good fathers and mothers.  In this respect, I note a few examples.

First, parental love is mysteriously marvelous.  That is, it is love fully given to each child.  Every couple wonders, “Will we love our second child as much as our first?”  That question is soon laid to rest as we find the extravagance of love that moves toward one child as much as another.  In this respect, our human love is a reflection of God’s parental live—a  love, in God’s case, that not only exhibits itself toward a few children, but toward 7+ billion children!  

Second, the fact of God’s equal love does not mean God loves us the same way.  In fact, the marvel of God’s love is increased by the specificity of it.  We are not impersonal parts of a generic cosmic love.  We are loved “by name” (e.g. Ex 33:17, Ps 91:14, Isa 43:1, Isa 49:16, and John 10:3).  And more, this specific knowledge becomes expressed to us as compassionate care (e.g. Ps 139 and Mt 10:34).  We know this too from our human experience as parents, but we see it universalized in God.

Third, God’s parental love accompanies us on out life journey.  Here I simply point to Psalm 23 and ask you to read it again, this time as a revelation of God’s love.  It is significant that Jesus picked up the same shepherd imagery to describe his love—not surprising, however, given he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  This third point has become especially important as I get older, but it is a precious truth to claim in every stage of life.

One final thing to say about God’s parental love comes through the image of home making.  I believe that being a home-maker is one of the vocations nearest to God’s heart.  Henri Nouwen was moved by the imagery of home as one of the supreme revelations of God’s love. [2¡  Most of us remember our parents leaving the light on for us when we were away from home.  In a similar way, God leaves the light on for us and keeps the home fire burning for  us all the days if our life, no matter how far away or how long absent we may be.

I had a friend decades ago, who was transformed by God’s parental love, and for the rest of his life he told whoever would listen, “You can love a God like that.”  Indeed!


[1] Hold on to your hats, but the best English word to describe God’s essence is ‘transgender,’ just as it is the word that best describes Adam prior to Eve.  It’s not surprising that Adam would have been transgender at first, since that is the nearest “likeness” of the divine being and the human being.  For those who would make a male/female binary reality necessary for creation, they fail to see that a nonbinary God was able to create the heavens and the earth.  In fact, some early Christians (e.g. Philo) believed that the original Adam would have been able to perpetuate the human race.

[2] Two of his books, ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ and ‘Homecoming’ illuminate the metaphor of home in relation to God’s love. 


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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