Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9–11 ESV)
God the Father in the Christian tradition should never be confused with a human parent. Not, in the least, the parent who is me. And, naturally, not those famously invisible parents who stay behind their house doors, not showing their faces, doling out Halloween rocks to a sad-sack kid named Charlie Brown.
It’s a comedic but disturbing storyline from the 1966 animated television special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Who are these parents? (A) Serious tricksters with a vicious, sadistic streak? (B) Unkind scrooges of the lowest order? (C) That sort of adult who maintains an unquenchable desire to teach kids life-lessons?
Occasionally—and more than occasionally—I must confess that my view of God the Father, functionally, is nothing more than a glorified metaphor. Sure, yes, the metaphor is imbued with quite a lot of spiritual meaning. But, at the end of the long, linguistic day, haven’t I still reduced God to the metaphorical—where he is something more mythological than true in the truest sense?
Of course, in Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treat wanderings in suburban America, the adult-givers are not the actual parents to the particular children making the ask. Considering God the Father, this is an extremely important distinction. And, from the text above, we would be keen to observe and embrace the reality that the dimension of actual relationship between Parent and Child is said to be the substantial difference-maker.
Notwithstanding, a person genuinely feels for Charlie Brown. In light of the other children receiving “good gifts” from the unseen parent in the neighborhood, Charlie Brown’s gift—“I got a rock”—seems entirely unjust. And we have to say: Injustice is a very large step beyond the mere playing of tricks.
As the world of Halloween turns, candy-collection comparisons among kids are inevitable. Degrees of fairness will be forever disputed. But when a child is entirely left out of the generosity circle, and without any answers, the injustice leaves a striking void. Indeed, there is a discernible quality of something beyond disappointment—a growing disillusionment—in Charlie Brown’s progressive revelation that upon asking for treats again and again he received a rock time after time.
At this point, and for the sake of clarity, I remind myself that it is probably best (and most accurate to the full narrative of the scriptures) to not theologically conceive of God the Father as a candy-giver. In fact, this skewed conception of God and his character makes the matter of his gift-giving more convoluted.
As the ancient story goes, God is the Father of lights (as the brother of Jesus once said). He is the one from whom all good gifts come down. However, it is equally true that not all good gifts are candy—although, in every age, some preachers and very many prophets would have you believe it. They would have you need it to be true, like Linus needs his blanket.
On All Hallows’ Eve, then, as weird as it sounds, most parents actually know precisely what God knows about candy.
Nonetheless, I feel for God. Because, as illustrated by the text above, God is—favorably!—analogized to a parent. Undoubtedly this is very good news for the average, earnest, goodhearted, loving parent. But it is very bad news for God, who, although he’d never admit it, would prefer not to be associated with some of us.
Here comes the textured truth of the matter. We find it, like the largest pumpkin in any patch, hiding in plain sight. How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! How much more? I pause.
God the Father in the Christian tradition has never been and is not now in the business of doling out rocks. Courageously, ruthlessly, and often painfully, each of us must sort out this theological reality. We are left to sift through the numerous rocks in our lives and attempt to figure out where, exactly, they’ve come from. On the other hand, God the Father’s goodness is not expressed exclusively in terms of candy.
Between God the Father and all his children, analogies can never be completely precise. T.S. Eliot once poeticized, “Words strain.” Despite the accumulation of rocks, Charlie Brown might appreciate that acknowledgment. Yet somewhere beyond that elusive, perfect understanding of the Giver lies the potential hunger and thirst to trust. Come rocks, candy, and everything in-between.