By Summer Gaasedelen
January 22, 2016

 The culture of American parenting has hit us full force. In the first few weeks of our daughter’s life I found it odd that routine interactions with her, even holding her or enjoying her presence, was “parenting.” As I speak to other parents of babies, I’m finding that the choices we are making vary significantly. When we hold her instead of letting her “cry it out” or to let her chew on toys at the library instead of trying to protect her from every germ, we are making choices that will shape her understanding of the word “Abba.”

The concept that God is our Abba has taken on as many interpretations as there are parenting styles. There’s the image of the father who requires that someone be punished for the wrongdoings against him, and chooses his own son as the recipient. There’s the image of the loving, albeit traditional, patriarchal father who knows what’s best and need be heeded. And then there’s the radical father of the prodigal son, who freely gives his son more love than could be considered reasonable, or even just. 

I believe two of these interpretations to be culturally constructed, based more on the ever-changing culture of parenting than on true qualities of God or of what it means to be Abba. The last one, Abba as Jesus taught, is so merciful as to seem unreasonable even for today’s child-centered culture. 

Rather than allowing popular parenting styles to shape our understanding of God, perhaps the story of the prodigal son should shape how we parent our children. Perhaps we have to allow them to make their own decisions and mistakes, and respond with a radical, merciful love.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

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Iowa City, IA 52245