In who God is, is who we are
Often while baptizing a child, I ask myself a very serious question. Is what I am doing going to make any difference in this child’s life? Is it going to be like a vaccine that prevents the child from catching the virus we call sin? The answer is clearly ‘no’, it certainly doesn’t work that way. There have been so many tyrants and monsters, Hitler and Stalin included, who could produce baptismal certs. The only valid answer I can come up with is that it certainly has the potential to make an incredible difference but the chances are that it will have no effect whatsoever except in so far as the child is influenced by the parents faith. Long term it can only make a difference, if when that child grows up, he or she comes to realize and accept what it means to be baptized and choose to live as a child of God.
Christ’s baptism marked the beginning of his public life. Did his baptism make any difference to him? Was his baptism about going down to the river Jordan and getting wet from being immersed in its waters or was there something more? His immersion symbolised his total surrender to God of his life and in response to that letting go the Fathers voice from heaven was heard saying, ‘You are my beloved son and in you I am well pleased’. This was a significant moment of not just knowing his father but also of knowing who he was; it was the moment where he found his own identity.
It was this identity that he brought with him into his ministry where for the next three years he could heal the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead and do all sorts of other miracles. His entire ministry was based on the rock of self-knowledge, knowing that he was the son of his father. When Jesus had the assurance of the father smiling on him, it set him up for life and from there on he knew he was capable of greatness. This knowing was in effect his secret to success.
For us also a good Father relationship is what sets us up for life and in saying that I am very aware of how often that is lacking and what amount of healing is needed when it was not there. It’s from our relationship with our father that we get our first glimpse of what our Heavenly Father is like. If a woman was lucky enough to have had a father who saw her as the apple of his eye and in those loving eyes she could do no wrong she will likely be someone to whom faith comes easy, she will inevitably make mistakes in life but will rarely carry guilt because she just knows that her father would never dream of punishing her.
Take the opposite scenario where a child grows up with a volatile, angry and punishing father, someone in who’s eyes she could never be good enough and could never get anything right. What do you think his or her image of God is likely to be? The chances are they will buy into an image of God who is also angry and ready to punish for the least misdemeanor, a being who can’t be trusted and is always watching for mistakes. So that person may well live with a fear of always being found out and never feeling good enough.
Many years ago I heard a lady describe her image of God in these terms: As someone who’s expectations were so high and who’s opinion of her was so low that she always felt she was living under his frown. Clearly she was expressing what her relationship with her own father had been like. Unconsciously she had carried this forward into adult life and transferred this image to believing that this was what God was like also. Because of this, her life was characterized by fear and anxiety and she was very prone to feeling guilty and blaming herself for the least thing. It was her image of God that came from her father that was holding her back so much in life.
Just contrast that with Jesus’ relationship with his father and how his Father’s approval empowered him for life.
In the past society was rigid and judgmental and a lot of fathers were exactly the same. This in turn was reflected in the view of God that was held by so many of past generations as a being that was harsh, punishing and to be feared. It was certainly the God of fear rather than the God of love that so many believed in.
I never knew my grandfather on my father’s side. This man had died before I was born so I was very curious to hear him described by someone outside my Family that I happened on quite by accident. ‘He was a fine honorable man’ I was told ‘but like so many of his time he suffered greatly from a terrible fear of God. He lived with guilt and scruples and never felt that he was good enough.’ To be honest, the man went on, ‘my own life has been quite similar: it too has been dominated by fear and a very negative image of God’. I would strongly suspect that both of them had fathers that were similar.
Finally let me share a true story. Some years ago I worked in therapy with a man who had been charged with and had admitted to child abuse. He had come for help to try and find where lay the roots of his problem. In the course of conversation we discovered a bit of shared history. As a child of four he was with his parents on the 15th of August in Tramore. He wandered and got lost among the crowds for over an hour and when he was found and they brought him back home his father gave him a terrible beating. As an adult he still shuddered with the thought of the leather belt across his bare bottom.
I too had a similar experience also on the 15th of August in Tramore where I got lost among the crowd. It must have been my parents worse nightmare. The place used to be black with people on that day even worse than the 15th here in Lady’s Island. A lorry driver who used to deliver lime to our farm spotted me and after an hour or so managed to find my parents. I will never forget the joy on their faces at seeing me safe and well and far from being scolded I was placed high on my fathers shoulders and as a result of going astray I ended up never feeling more loved than just then. Listening to that unfortunate man I couldn’t help wondering if my father had been like his, how different might my life have turned out? One thing it taught me is, just how little right we have to judge another, there but for a different father or for the grace of God go I.
So a question to ponder is: What was my father relationship like and how has it influenced my relationship with God as my Father?