It has been said that our fathers shape what we think of God. This is probably especially true for those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, where God is most commonly depicted with paternal imagery. In Christianity (my religion), God the Father is one of the three persons of the Trinity, and I do believe my ideas of God have been fashioned by the loving relationship I have with my earthly, biological father. I am not an adoptee and do not know what it is like to have an image of God that is shaped by having both an adoptive and a biological father. And of course, the title “birth father” has many different connotations that are as diverse as the men who make up that aspect of the adoption triad. While trying to avoid generalizations and stereotypes, what can we learn by exploring how God is like a birth father? An interesting thought experiment to say the least!
The Christian God has many strong parallels to a birth father in the story of the Incarnation. In sending his son to Earth, God made sure he would be raised by the very best family—not the richest or most powerful, but the holiest and most tender. He let Joseph have the title of father to Jesus, establishing family as something that can be more than just biology. When Jesus is baptized as a grown man, God announces, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” but otherwise has little other public displays of fatherhood. Indeed, their relationship seems most strained when Jesus, suffering on the cross, agonizes that God has forsaken and abandoned him. The story has a happy ending though, complete with a sublime reunification, and Jesus sitting as the right-hand man of his Father for the rest of eternity.
It isn’t hard to see those birth father parallels in the Gospel stories, but in what ways is God like a birth father to the rest of us (Christian or otherwise)? I suppose God might seem mysterious; someone you’ve heard of often but are still waiting to meet, perhaps like a birth father in a closed relationship. You’re told His actions are out of love, but sometimes your pain and the realities of the life you’ve been placed in make you doubt those intentions. You “carry his image” but aren’t sure what that means exactly. Is it your creativity, your ability to love, your free will? In what ways are you like him? In what ways are you not? When you meet him, will it feel like a piece that has always been missing, or will he not match the stories you’ve been told? Why doesn’t he reach out more directly, more obviously, to let you know your importance as his child? Why was this separation necessary in the first place? There are so many questions.
When we think of God in these terms, perhaps those of us without birth fathers can gain some empathy and understanding for those that do. Maybe we can remember to be intentional in fostering openness with all parts of the adoption triad and to talk with respect about birth fathers, whether they are known or unknown, “good” or “bad.” Reunification seems to have many parallels with a spiritual journey; perhaps hesitant adoptive parents can reflect on how deeply human it is to desire stories that give meaning and insight to our lives.