Winter 2013

Family and Relationships

The Perfect Parent

Scott Hulme

Throughout both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures, God is continually described in terms of His role as Father. Yet His compassion is likened not only to that of a father for his children (Psalm 103:13) but to that of a mother for her nursing baby (Isaiah 49:15). Compassionate parent is among the chief roles performed by this perfect Being. Who better to look to, then, for a model of loving, effective parental guidance?

Certainly there is no one more aware of our needs than our own Creator. Scripture speaks of a Being who is prepared and willing to provide any of the physical necessities such as food, drink or clothing (Matthew 6:25–33). But what of our emotional needs? Indeed, there too God demonstrates what might be termed attunement, a keen understanding of and reactiveness to our emotions. He responds with compassion to the cries and groanings of His people (Exodus 3:9; Judges 2:18). It’s a compassion rooted in a realistic understanding of His children’s natural limitations: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13–14).

Naturally that’s not to say God abides continual disobedience. His children should expect appropriate instruction and training, “for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). Indeed, vital to the development of any son or daughter is right and effective teaching and discipline. Proverbs 22:6 encourages parents to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It’s clear that such instruction must start early. Moreover, it’s worth noting that the biblical Hebrew word underlying “train” carries a connotation of narrowing or hedging in. One could picture a shepherd’s crook, used less for striking than for steering—blocking the wrong paths while leaving open the right ones.

Such gentle and attuned guidance is mirrored in the prophet Isaiah’s description of the instruction that God will ultimately make available to all: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you… . And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:19b, 21). The imagery is almost that of whispered encouragement. It’s a beautiful approach—and one that can inspire our own.

By setting and enforcing right boundaries we encourage harmony with the apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” By doing so in a way that emulates our spiritual Father’s attunement, we heed the follow-on thought in verse 4 (Complete Jewish Bible): “Don’t irritate your children and make them resentful; instead, raise them with the Lord’s kind of discipline and guidance.”