God the Father and Charlie Brown's Rock
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)
Despite the biblical, and richly meaningful, nomenclature, God the Father in the Christian tradition is never to be confused with a human parent. Not in the least.
At least not Me the Parent, anyway.
And at least not that famously invisible parent—the one featuring off-screen and behind the door, not showing his or her face, doling out the rocks to a sad-sack kid named Charlie Brown in the 1966 animated television special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Whoever that parent is behind that door, he or she is either a serious trickster with a vicious streak or a scrooge of the lowest order. If a scrooge, this image would channel that other endearing holiday image in which a grown-up interacts with children at his front door by brandishing a shovel and a humbug. Father Christmas!
Occasionally (more than occasionally) I will admit: I have succumbed to viewing God the Father as nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek description. Something more ironic than true—in the truest, most completely true way.
Maybe you've succumbed, too. We all have our reasons.
Of course, interestingly, in both cases—Charlie Brown's Halloween experience in suburban America and the penny-seeking adventures of urchins in Charles Dickens' London—neither adult is an actual parent to the particular children making the ask, which is an important distinction.
From the text above, we would be keen to note: the dimension of actual relationship between Parent and Child is said to be the substantial difference-maker.
But a person feels for Charlie Brown. The trick is neither clever, nor kind. Not to mention, just. In light of the other children receiving candy.
Candy comparisons among neighborhood kids are inevitable, and fairness will be forever disputed, but when one is entirely left out of the generosity circle, and tricked to boot, the injustice is stark and palpable. There is, in fact, a quality of something-beyond-disappointment in Charlie Brown's ongoing revelation that upon asking for candy he received a rock, several times over.
At this point, it's probably best to not theologically conceive of God the Father as a candy-giver in the first place. This conception undoubtedly makes the matter of God's giving more convoluted. He is the Father of lights, as the brother of Jesus said, the one from whom all good gifts come down. However, not all good gifts are candy. No matter what this guy tends to preach—
On All Hallows Eve, then, just like on any other day, most parents know what God knows: Not all good gifts are candy.
Nonetheless, I feel for God.
In the text, God is favorably analogized to a parent with regard to the how and the what of generosity and gift-giving. Naturally, this is very good news for the average, goodhearted parent, but very bad news for God, who, I imagine, would not prefer to be associated with some of us. Even the best, brightest, and most virtuous of us.
The key point really seems to be hidden in the phrase "how much more." As in: How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God the Father is not in the business of doling out rocks. Each of us must sort out this reality in our own lives even as we sift through the rocks and figure out where exactly they've come from. Likewise, God the Father is not in the business of exclusively passing out candy.
Between God and humans, I suppose parenting analogies can never be entirely precise. Yet this chasm in our understanding must remain deep in our consciousness—especially if we are (ever) to get our minds and hearts around the One who is Father. The One who is a giver. But not like us.
And somewhere beyond the understanding lies the trusting.