Bread or Stones
The Character of God the Father in a fatherless culture
A look at Matthew 7:7-11
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 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!
I recently gave a talk at a conference on the different ways that we connect with God. One of the ones that stuck out the most was of God the Father. Having recently become a father myself, this aspect of God has taken on new meaning. Realistically, it has shown me about how little I know of God. In just starting the journey of a Father’s love, I have become more aware of the vast landscape of meaning that I am so new to exploring.
In Scripture we see the analogy of God referred to as a Father quite frequently, both in the Old Testament and the New. Yet, it seems that in our culture, the word Father or maybe more so, the role of a Father has changed dramatically.
We are influenced by our culture and by its narratives on roles and topics. When we look at the storyline of a father in our society we so often see not the hero in a story, but the antagonist. The Father figure is often portrayed as inept, vindictive, absent, irresponsible, toxic or disconnected. It is here we ask ourselves,” Does society reflect art or does art reflect society?” The story of the troubled Father is so commonplace that the storyline of a positive Father figure is now rare.
What are we to do? For some of us, the thought of God as a Father is not comforting, it is scary. It is scary because it is an unstable image. In ancient cultures the Father was a symbol of stability, security, but we do not live in ancient times. We have had a lineage of struggle and absence. Most Fathers today are not drawing from a singular example of a Father, but a conglomeration of hopes that we have constructed in an attempt to remedy the plague that we see in the families around us. We are trying to build solid homes on broken foundations and when the cracks start to show in our own lives we have a hard time taking advice from men whose homes have crumbled. We fear standing in ruin, we fear our families living in it, sifting through the rubble to find what they need to survive.
In Matthew 7 we are once again given the analogy of God as a Father. There is a contrast between what a good Father would do and what He wouldn’t do. There are three participants in the story: the earthly Father, the heavenly Father, and the child. Each one portrays a call to a deeper relationship.
First let’s take a look at the child. There are certain expectations that the child has of the Father in this story. The child expects the Father to have the character to provide, the desire to provide, the resources to provide, the relationship to provide and the responsibility to provide. The child does not view his request as an inconvenience, but a part of a natural relationship. Yet so often I do not approach God that way. I feel as though He may have the character to provide, but not the desire. That I am the bastard child that is an inconvenience for the King. This many times comes from a borrowed ideal or scenario from an earthly relationship to a Father or a Father figure. I may also view God as having the desire but not the capacity to provide. Like the loving Father that is a junkie in the movie or tv show. He always wants to be there, but never comes through and the child is left to fend for himself. Self-reliance may have been a necessary skill but if we are not careful, becomes self-idolatry. At this point you may be thinking, as am I, “How in the world do we change this, or grow out of this?”
One step at a time.
If we have come from scenarios where we have had to be self-reliant or our value and worth was based on performance,we will have a hard time relating to God as a Father. We have to take it a step at a time. Every milestone of our walk with God is reached by one small step of faith at a time. So is our image of God as our Father restored.
The Earthly Father
The Earthly Father mentioned in the text portrays a Father who poses all of the things the child desires. The character, desire, resources, relationship and responsibility to provide for the child’s needs. Let’s look at the request the child is making and how the father meets them.
Bread vs. Stone
Bread was of great value in the ancient near-east culture. If you were walking and saw a piece of bread in the road, you would not trample it underfoot. You would pick it up,dust it off and set it to the side, so that it may be of use to someone else. It represented the needs of daily life and the work it took to provide for it.
The child is asking for his (or her) basic needs to be met, for nourishment.
The Father is left with a choice. He can provide the basic needs, which would be a sacrifice and require work, or he can give a stone. Obviously a stone is hard and can provide no nourishment. The bread during these times were made in small loaves. Could the neglecting father be trying to pass off the appearance of provision in giving a stone? Could he even warm the stone so that at first glance and on the surface it looks beneficial? Yet, it lacks the ability to meet the needs required. Or, is the stone a harsh response to a genuine request? An extreme response to a genuine heartfelt need. The stone may have been an obvious denial of meeting the request or it could have been a subtle side step to appease people looking at a distance.
The earthly Father in the story does the hard work and makes the sacrifice to provide what is asked for, what is genuinely needed.
Fish or Snake
Whereas bread was a daily commodity, fish was not. Fish was a blessing. A gift that not only sustained but blessed. I believe this is the child asking for a blessing, that this is a picture of not just the functionality of the relationship (daily bread) but the depth of the relationship. The Father is left with the choice between the blessing of the fish or the gift of a snake. Again, they could be passed off as a bit similar in appearance to a distant onlooker, but the effect is just the opposite. The stone was unusable, the snake is deadly. Filled with poison, it injects venom into the request for a blessing. It lashes out when the request for depth is given, leaving pain instead of joy. For many of us this is our story. Longing for blessing we have been bitten and the poison of the past courses through our veins. Only by the blood of Christ and the gift of the gospel can this poison stop. Only through Jesus can we be healed. The power of Christ overcomes the poison of a malicious Father.
The Heavenly Father
Verse 11 states that if we, who are evil by nature, know how to give good gifts, how much more so will our Father in heaven give good gifts to His children.
Three words: How Much More
The Heavenly Father is not just a good Father, He is an extravagant one. He is One who possess the character, has the desire, the resources, the relationship and accepts the responsibility to provide despite our brokenness. We are not perfect children, but in Christ, we have an extravagant Father.
I believe that if we really grasped the depth of our relationship with God our Father through Christ, we would not doubt His intentions, His desires. Yet the reminders of other Fathers compete with what these verses reveal.
As I learn to be a father, I find myself learning how to also be a child. A child who believes in His Father, a child who is taking steps of faith towards healing and hope. I am finding that my cries for my needs do not go unanswered, and if I dare, the cries for blessing do not either. In faith I am learning to be bold in my relationship with God. That He does not love me because of what I do, but because through Christ, I am His child. I am learning that He desires more for me than I could have ever dreamed myself. I am learning to eat the bread that He gives and accept the fish from His hands, that there are no strings attached. In a fatherless culture I am not only learning how to have a Father, I am learning how to be His child.