Having become parents recently made it imperative to frame this exhortation around that theme: spiritual reflections on heavenly parenthood! But whether you are young or old, married or single, have no children or a “quiver full of them”, the Bible’s teaching on this subject is there for our learning and exhortation. That teaching utilises an interesting metaphor illustrating how God has revealed Himself to us as a parent, “our heavenly Father” through Jesus Christ, His Son. But let us go to the beginning.

“From the beginning…”

Genesis is a book of beginnings and we find many principles in the early chapters. Jesus himself does this at least once in the Gospels. When facing the Pharisees on the issue of divorce he says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female” (Matt 19:4 ESV). He goes on to describe the marriage relationship, making special reference to the two becoming ‘one flesh’. And when they questioned the Lord, on Moses’ permitting divorce, his answer was clear: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt 19:8 ESV). The Spirit carefully moved the pen of Moses to state God’s purpose with mankind. We read, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them” (Gen 1:26-28). When we come to chapter 5 we have the record of Adam fathering a son after “his own likeness, after his image” and naming him Seth (v1-3). Here is a repetition of the terminology used of the Creator Himself, setting a pattern for all subsequent generations. As we gaze at our child, we wonder if we will and hope to see little resemblances of ourselves: not just physical resemblances but both ‘image and likeness.’ We are constantly amazed at just how many of these quickly become apparent in our little ones, albeit we are so conscious of moulding their character after the divine ideal.

It is also very apparent that human babies would have to be the most helpless and fragile in the whole animal kingdom. Even an animal born in the wild will soon be walking on all fours, feeble though it may be. It will follow its mother, waiting for the next opportunity to get a feed. But if any of us, when we were born, had been left to find our own way to survive, we would not have lasted a day! This is by design but when we consider our own spiritual development, how appropriate are the words from the hymn, “Father Supreme, whose wondrous love, Our utmost thought so far exceeds. We seek thy blessing from above–A rich supply for all our needs. On Thee alone our hopes we rest, To Thee alone we lift our eyes” (Hymn 138). Our spiritual birth is parallel to our remarkable human birth and subsequent sustenance being dependent on the nourishment which comes from our heavenly Father. As a ‘mother’ our God so richly supplies our every need!

As a mother cannot forget her newborn

From a heavenly parenthood point of view it’s interesting to note that El Shaddai, the first revealed title of God (Gen 17:1), has the meaning of “the strength of the mighty ones.” Whilst we can see this role vigorously applied by our Father as a defender of His servants, it also has the connotations of being an “all-powerful Nourisher or Sustainer” (see Phanerosis page 19). There are a number of Scriptures in which God’s description of Himself takes that very form, of being a nourisher and sustainer. In Psalm 36 the imagery there is of a mother hen, gathering her little chicks for protection and feeding them with good nourishment from “the fountain of life” (v7-9)! Again Psalm 27 reminds us that even if natural parents fail us, “Yahweh will take me up” (v10) and provide sustenance through the nourishing care in His household, the ecclesia. In the Servant prophecy of Isaiah 49 the prophet draws attention to the birth of Messiah (v1,5) before speaking of his role in bringing light to the Gentiles and salvation unto the end of the earth (v6). But Zion bewails being forsaken while others, Gentile nations, are called and receive the privileges that were once exclusively hers (v12- 14). To this remonstrance Yahweh replies, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” (v15). What a powerful illustration of Yahweh’s inexhaustible care! Even if a woman could forget her child yet God could not forget Zion for she is engraven on the palms of His hands and His eyes are ever upon her walls. The metaphor is continued in Isaiah 66 which begins with a call for humility and then tells us about the restoration, joy and consolation of God’s people. Their ‘mother”, Zion or Jerusalem, the ‘wife’ of Yahweh gives suck to her children and they are borne upon her sides and dandled upon her knees. Again a mother’s warm embrace is used to illustrate Yahweh comforting His people: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (v11-13).

Whether personally or by seeing others, we can all relate to these illustrations, but the question remains, do we believe it? Can I believe that God, in a sense, is willing and able to come running to my cries: to bring comfort, bounce us on His knee, and carry us on His hip? I think we can see a great deficiency in our own selves in demonstrating that kind of patience and compassion. Mercifully, our own deficiencies will be met by God Himself in so many instances.

What great comfort lies in the assurance of the resurrection day! Not only is it a long anticipated day but it is also a new birth, the miracle of life and restoration of all of our faculties. We can visualise the joy of the resurrection when, as Brother Thomas so beautifully describes, the sleeping saints are brought forth from the still of night as the dew (Eureka vol 1, sect 4, pt 2). He describes how, begotten of the Spirit, the saints are brought forth by the sun’s rays from the womb of the dawn. The sun rises and draws the dew into clouds and so, as Paul writes to those of Thessalonica, we shall forever be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17). What a graphic illustration conveying excitement for us as we see the day beginning to dawn when Christ, the Sun of righteousness, shall arise with healing in his beams (Mal 4:2)! How we long for that birth after such a long night and after such a struggle to share the joy of the Father and the Son when the multitudinous bride of Christ is revealed!

Paul’s ‘children’

The Apostle Paul often referred to this metaphor to describe his relationship to the ecclesia. He even took on the ‘motherly’ role of God in some cases, manifest in his loving care and discipline. Consider how Paul felt about the Galatians and their early birth into Christianity and the influence of the Judaizers (Gal 4:19-20). Paul had to work very hard at making disciples for Christ and I’m sure he felt pressure and responsibility for the ecclesias forming all over the known world (2 Cor 11:25). He taught the Ephesians, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15 ESV). To the Corinthians, as challenging as their birth was, Paul says to them, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor 4:14 ESV). Paul’s hand was always there to guide and assist the growth of the early ecclesia, for just as babies do they needed vigilance and care. Consider what Paul says to the Thessalonians and notice the duality of the metaphor he uses in manifesting God Himself (1 Thess 2:6-12). Paul could say that he was gentle, “Just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” He nourished his children in the Faith and was willing to impart his own soul (life) that they might grow. Yes, we can preach the Gospel but do we give of our own selves, with labour and travail, night and day, to nurture and develop those in our care (v9)?

Jesus the Son of God

Many of the aspects of our theme can be seen in our Lord’s teaching and were lived out in his life. Of all of the titles he takes, he is ultimately the Son of God, and every other title is underpinned by that one. As amazing as it is for us to see our reflection in our children, imagine how God felt about His Son: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 ESV). With each year that passed, Jesus was more and more the manifestation of his Father, until it could be said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:15,19 ESV). Again of Christ it is said, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3 KJV). There has never been such a perfect image of a parent and a child!

It takes a certain kind of person to accept the Gospel. Those who had the humility and trust of a little child received it and responded to the comfort Jesus gave (Matt 11:25-26,28-30). Sometimes when we take a child into our arms we can feel the Lord’s love for us, his ‘little ones.’ Are we open to that kind of relationship with our Lord Jesus, particularly in our private devotions? If we are too proud to cry out in need for his care, or too ‘mature’ to get excited about him ‘coming home’ in the Kingdom, or too busy to appreciate the wonder of knowing him, we should consider the need to receive the Kingdom “as a little child” (Mark 9:33-37; 10:13- 16). Twice, Jesus took a little child up in his arms. It was someone else’s, yes, but the object lessons were there for all to see.

Father heard; an angel there sustained the Son of God in prayer, In sad Gethsemane; He drank the dreadful cup of pain, then rose to life and joy again” (Hymn 216). The Father never forsook His Son and in that we can take courage. Brethren and sisters, as He was with His Son in the darkest hours so we can be assured that He will be by our side, sustaining us through prayer.

The long night is nearly over and the sun’s rays bring the promise of a new day. The resurrection of sleeping saints aroused “by the shout of the Lord,” along with those who are alive and remain, will form a great cloud of witnesses. After such a long gestation period, the Father and the Son anxiously await that moment! The joy of children coming into the world will be replicated on a far grander scale when all the family of God are gathered into one (Eph 1:10). That life and joy is offered to all of us to share forever, and will soon be fulfilled in glory: “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage: I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:6-7 ESV ). Brothers and sisters, might we take the opportunity to remember the lessons that the Bible gives us about being the children of God as demonstrated so perfectly in Jesus Christ, our Lord.