“…if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also” (John 8:19)
The notorious atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) once argued in a debate that having an “eternal Father” is one of the most detestable things he could imagine, and it was one of the worst constructs of the Christian religion.
Can you imagine, he argued, a person never being able to leave his father’s home and become his own person? He claimed that it severely stifled humanity’s maturity and growth (and by maturity and growth, he meant getting completely away from all religious pursuit and aiming entirely for humanistic pursuits).
Hitchens might have been right, if he wasn’t so wrong.
His illustration fails because his frame of reference is biased. He imagines only earthly fathers, full of faults, and full of evils. He was right: generally speaking, children must leave their parents and grow their own wings in order to thrive. But that experience is not identical to man’s relationship with the heavenly Father.
One of the purposes of Jesus’ incarnation was to illuminate the difference between the relationships of inferior fathers (and their children), and the superior fatherhood of God Almighty:
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).
An older preacher friend (his children were my age) and I were discussing parent-child relationships some years ago, when my oldest children were quite small. He said to me, “When they’re young, you have to discipline and correct them. When they get older, it changes. Now, my son and I are the best of friends.”
That’s what Jesus wants for us. Once we submit ourselves to God as our eternal Father, our relationship grows, we grow (2 Peter 3:18). We grow closer, and we become the best of friends (James 2:23).
Hitchens was right: we must leave the nest, as it were, to grow and mature. But a child of the heavenly Father cannot grow and mature unless he is drawing closer to the eternal Father, and his heavenly home (cf. John 14:1-3).