As I try to understand the gospels, I like to think about what rabbis normally said and how they said it. I imagine that listening to one was a bit like hanging out on the streets of New York City. They were hyperbolic, extreme, to make a point.
In Luke 3, which is what I read today, I get the impression John the Baptist thought his listeners were a rotten bunch. He calls them vipers, and demands they begin to bear good fruit in their lives. John was a prophet, not a rabbi, but he knew how to get people’s attention on his metaphorical street corner.
He isn’t as hard on them as it would seem though. When the people ask, “What should we do?” his response is simple: Share what you have, and don’t steal, or cheat, or accuse someone falsely. John isn’t really asking for much. Grace was woven into what he said, like silver threads.
This whole issue of blame and punishment is a big one though, not only in the Bible, and religion, but in families.
It’s hard to imagine God as Mother being all that blame-y, though Father God, or even just God, can conjure up images of wrath, endless fire in hell, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
That’s partly because of Old Testament prophets who spoke of punishment from God, but also because Jesus talked like that when he taught. Rabbis everywhere spoke of hell sometimes, of course. But Jesus was doing something different. He was explaining a new, love-based morality to people who felt like they could never go to hell because they followed all the rules.
Paul’s take on Jesus is that trusting in Jesus wipes out punishment. You can escape God’s justice against sin, through faith in Jesus (e.g. Rom. 5:8,9). And faith can start small, like a tiny seed, or melded to unbelief that we cry out to God about. Jesus, long before Paul, said that the work of God was to believe in Him (John 6:29) and John said that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).
Relationship. Holding God’s metaphorical hand. Receiving forgiveness and unconditional love. That sounds like God as Mother.
So, my question is, how might Paul’s view of punishment and grace translate to mothering and fathering?
Blame and Grace in Families
In my house, blame is the undercurrent we are either being swept along by, are surfing, or swimming against. It’s huge, though we work against it more and more often these days.
On bad days, we blame the dog for peeing again on the floor. I think blameful thoughts about Joel not remembering things I’ve said. Joel might blame Marshall for not turning off the computer or for refusing to go to a certain store.
Words are hardly needed. Just a tone, a huff or sigh, a slight inflection of a word. Since Marshall was 5, he too has played the blame game. It’s not hard to pick up from your parents.
Since at least that many years, I have tried not to be blame-y. Only a year ago, however, did I begin to occasionally use the word “grace” around the house. It struck me then how very absent it was, in word and deed. We ignored things, and attempted forgiveness, but didn’t run to grace.
Grace is unmerited favor, I learned in Sunday School. You don’t earn it, don’t have to deserve it. It’s favor that is a gift. It’s a favor, one you can’t repay. It’s love that keeps going, when it could stop to punish.
This is Mother God’s heart, to bestow grace, and for us to give it to each other as sisters and brothers. There is a book I’ve read parts of called Grace Based Parenting. I love the title. This is Mother’s God call to parents, and spouses.
Just how hard is it in our culture’s parenting climate to give unmerited, unearned favor to our kids? Aren’t we supposed to deliver Love and Logic?—as in, give the most natural consequence with the most loving tone. “Uh oh! Looks like you go to time-out again, Milo. So sorry!”
That’s good-intended but it’s not grace. I don’t give consequences in a sweet tone of voice, anyway, no matter how many Love and Logic books I’ve read and seminars I’ve been to.
How do we want Mother God to discipline us, Her kids? How does She actually do it?
I think none of us want to suffer for what we do, even if it’s justice. Suffering’s a bit random, anyhow, not always connected to our actions. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a perennial, painful question, Job’s and Rabbi Kushner’s.
But we kind of expect bad things to happen when we do something bad.
Yet what we hope for is a God who keeps believing in us, no matter what we’ve done–again. We want a Mother who draws us close to Her when we’re feeling ashamed. We want a Mother who never turns her back on us because we’re supposed to be in Time-Out.
And that’s Grace, a gift we can receive from Mother God to give to our own kids, and each other. Right now.
What ways do you receive grace and give grace in your family?