I went to Sunday school for the first time in years. Unfortunately, I chose fathers day for this. As you might expect, the topic was being a "Godly father."
"We all want to be Godly fathers, don’t we?" the teacher asked. His eyes landed on me. "You want to be a Godly father don’t you?" He said directly to me. I returned his gaze but remained still and silent, hoping he would go on and not force what was about to happen. No such luck. "Hello," he said. "Bill. I am talking to you," he said jokingly. " You do want to be a Godly father, don’t you?"
"No. Actually I don’t," I said.
He was clearly surprised at this response. He entertained the thought that I was joking but then sensed I was not. "Why?" he finally said uncomfortably.
"Maybe I misunderstood your question," I said. "I assume the "god" in "godly" refers to Yahweh?"
In his eyes there began to dawn a glimmer of hope that we could get back on the expected track and elicit the correct response if he simply explained his question to me. "Yes," he said, "it does."
"And by "godly" do you mean like Yahweh?"
" And by "like Yahweh," do you mean treat my children like Yahweh treats his?"
"Yes, you’ve got it," he smiled. "And we all want to treat our children like God treats his children, don’t we?"
"Not me," I said. His simile disappeared again.
"Why not?" he asked, looking suddenly uncomfortable again.
"Well, first of all, don’t you believe that Yahweh continually and repeatedly threatens his children with permanent abandonment?"
"No!" he said. "God is always trying to reach his children."
"Don’t you believe that if his children fail to meet his behavioral or belief expectations that he will ultimately reject and abandon them forever without hope in hell?"
This was clearly not where he thought this lesson would go when he started the class. "Didn’t Jesus say that if any of Yahweh’s children saw a hungry man and did not feed him, or failed to clothe a naked man that, one day, the father would pretend not to even know that child and order him to depart into everlasting torture?"
"But only if the child chooses to go," the teacher said.
"Chooses to go to hell?" I asked. "Do you really believe that anyone would actually choose hell?"
"Well, not choose hell. But we can choose to disobey God or reject him."
"Yes," I said, we can choose to disobey. Just like my children often choose to disobey me. And to be a "godly father" then, I would have to threaten my children with total, complete and irreversible rejection and abandonment if they choose to disobey me and reject my love. And to make it more like "god," I would have to threaten to abandon them in the middle of a bad neighborhood filled with pedophiles and thugs in the middle of the night where they could expect to be raped, beaten, tortured and killed. Is that really the kind of father you want to be?"
"Well.... nooo." he said.
"And that is just one example of how Yahweh treats his children. Lets just walk through history as taught by the bible. First, Yahweh created his children. He could have made them tough minded and better able to resist temptation but he made them with human weaknesses. Then he could have left the tree of knowledge out of the garden or made its fruit ugly and repulsive. But he chose to make it "pleasing to the eye" good for food and tasty. But still his children obeyed him and didn’t eat it. So he created a talking snake knowing exactly what was going to happen when the snake talked to his children. And he sat there and watched what he had created and set in motion happen. What kind of father would tell his children not to play in the street, then leave them unsupervised near the street, remove the fence between the yard and the street, send a neighbor kid to try to talk them into playing in the street, and then act like he is surprised when they give in and play in the street? Would you blame the child for playing in the street or the idiot father who, though nominally ordering them to stay out of the street, practically steered them into it by removing all constraints that might stop them and sending someone he knows will actually persuade them to go into the street?
"Lets continue this walk through the bible. He puts together a nation of his favorite children and sets out to raise them to be good and decent people. He gives them some commandments, which include the laudatory instruction not to kill each other. But when this father gets mad at some neighbors for not respecting him, he orders his sons to take up swords and go over to the neighboring village and run those swords through every living thing in the village. You may have heard this argument before, but I will bet it was focused on the harsh treatment of the people being killed. Since we are talking about father-child relationships today, let’s examine this from the point of view of the children of Yahweh. Perhaps among them were good and decent young men who respected others and empathized with the suffering of others. And suddenly, they find themselves being forced, by direct order of their father to look into the eyes of a terrified mother, tear her screaming terrified child from her arms and run a sword through that child and hear its screams turn to coughing and gurgling as it drowned in its own blood and goes limp in this decent young man’s arms. And then, he must turn to the horrified, terrified, grieving mother and run her through and watch the life leave her body. And then he has to turn to a crying terrified adolescent girl, cowering in the corner, pull her out and slice her throat and watch her eyes glaze over and her body go limp. Then he has to turn to the grandpa, who had to watch all of this from his bed and kill him too. And then he has to go to the next house and repeat it all again. Over and over all day long. And then, he has to kill all the family pets and livestock as well. What effect would that have on the young man with the sword? What nightmares would he suffer the rest of his life as he had to watch the babies and terrified children and horrified mothers die again and again because he could not stop the tape from playing and replaying itself in his head? What kind of father would order his sons to do such horrific and awful things? If it really was necessary for Yahweh to kill babies and wipe out entire villages, couldn’t he have done it himself instead of subjecting his children to the horrors of killing babies and old men?
" But it doesn’t end there. When the young men get home, their father tells them that if they see a neighbor pick up a stick on the Sabbath, they have to kill him. And not humanely. They are specifically ordered to kill him viciously and slowly by throwing rocks at him as he cries out and cowers, until he falls to the ground bloodied and beaten. And then continue to throw rocks at him until he lies unconscious, and then continue to throw rocks at him until his unconscious groans cease and he takes a last gasping gurgling breathe and dies.
"And then this young man’s father tells him that if one of his own children fails to give him proper respect or becomes a drunkard, like his own heavenly father, he must abandon his child and ask the neighbors to help him throw rocks at his own child until its whimpering and crying cease and it dies horribly and slowly. And if any of his neighbors ask, he must help them kill their own children in the same awful way. What kind of father would demand such things from his sons?
"And then one day, daddy’s rival at the office offers a bet that if daddy will let the rival torture one of his good obedient sons, the son will turn on him. And daddy takes that bet! He gives permission for a personal enemy to torture and harass his kid unmercifully just to win a bet about how good the kid is. And when the kid has suffered long and endured much but finally breaks and asks his father why he is letting this happen, daddy responds with a stern defensive lecture about how he is the father and Job is the son and Job has no right to ask such questions no matter what horrible things happen to him because of daddy’s bet with the devil.
The teacher could not take it anymore and spoke up. "But all of that was because man sinned. And our loving heavenly Father gave his own son to save us.
"That brings us to the New testament," I said. "So Yahweh, having knowingly created his children susceptible to sin and having set them up for failure now pretends to be angry at them for failing to obey him. So, instead of fixing the things he has messed up; instead of changing the makeup of his children so they desire obedience and find disobedience repulsive, or just flat forgiving and loving them despite the shortcomings he made them with, he comes up with a plan. He calls his children together. He tells them that he is angry at all but one of them for their sinning. One of them he says is one with whom he is "well pleased." But he is going to find away to forgive the others for taking cookies from the cookie jar and the way he is going to do it is to make the ones he is mad at beat and torture his only "good" son and make some of the other children watch this horrible spectacle, telling them that the reason their brother is being tortured is all their fault for not being able to overcome the very nature with which their father created them. And then, when he is all done torturing the one son, he then still proposes to abandon his other children to horrible torture if they fail to bow appropriately and shower praise and honor on daddy for his wonderful plan to save them by torturing big brother. And that brings me back to where I started.
"You asked me if I want to be to my children what Yahweh is to his. And my answer is a resounding no. I hope I can be a much better parent than that. And besides, if I did behave toward my children like Yahweh does to his, I’d be in jail by sundown tomorrow.
God save us from "Godly fathers."