J.B. Phillips, in his classic, Your God is Too Small, lists several common misconceptions of God. One he dubs “Parental Hangover.”

He notes that one’s relationship to one’s parents is extremely influential in forming one’s default understanding of what God is like–for good or ill. If you’ve had domineering parents, you’re likely to be afraid of God–to view Him as a controlling tyrant. If you’ve had doting parents, you may be more likely to conceive of God as a bit of a pushover. Whatever the failures of our parents, these inevitably get reflected in our understanding of God–and have to be re-formed over the course of Christian maturity until our understanding of God is more accurately Biblical.

I think it’s rather shocking that, given this problem of our sinful parents warping our default understanding of what God is like, God still commands us to use a parental categories when we are relating to Him (and his Church). We are “His children.” He is “Our Father.” His Son is “Our Elder Brother.” The Church is “Our Mother.” Etc. Why?

It must be that the good far outweighs the bad. The risk is worth it. No matter how dysfunctional our family relationships are–somehow we retain the categories of “good,” “loving,” “wise,” “gentle,” “nourishing,” “providing,” protecting,” etc.

Some of you have had terrible experiences. You’v been neglected, abused, harmed. My prayer is that your scars will tell a story of redemption–even as the nail-scarred hands and feet of Our Lord.

Some of you have had beautiful experiences. Your parents are models. My prayer for you is that you may extend their legacy into the next generation so that the prayerful words “Our Father Who art in Heaven” may be filled with appropriate affection.

For all of us–may the Holy Scriptures, and the best examples of our heroes in the faith, continue to show us what God is really like, that we may love Him, adore Him, and serve Him as His faithful sons and daughters.