One of the first readings for my Lent was Hebrews 12 – a passage of scripture I’ve often had issues with. The discussion of fathers in this chapter has made me uncomfortable for years, mostly because of my relationship with my own father. However, the point of it is something much different – something that sets God apart from any father I have or ever will know.
Lent in Hebrews
The reason Hebrews 12 is one of the first readings for the season of Lent is because it talks about the nature of the season. Hebrews 12 makes the correlation between the fasting and abstinence of Lent and the correction that a father makes of his children.
“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he that the father chasteneth not?” vrse 7, KJV
This is a two-part statement in that it talks not just about God’s relationship to us, but our relationship to God.
God the Father
God is our father. We hear this all the time in sermons or prayer or the title of “God the Father,” but it’s not really a conscious hearing. To understand God is to understand the role of a father, exhibited in its perfection. That role does bring with it the necessity of disciplining one’s children. How many times have you seen children misbehaving and been critical of their seemingly lax parents? To be a parent is to have the responsibility of correcting them when they do wrong.
But God is unlike human fathers in that he is completely oriented towards the good of his children. Verse 10 acknowledges the fact that some parents discipline their children “after their own pleasure.” I think most people will be able to understand what that means, have some memory of being unfairly punished for something they didn’t do. This may have been an honest mistake or it may have been a more severe example, but in contrast to this God is completely unlike that. God doesn’t make mistakes, neither does he chasten us except to make us better.
He wants us to be a part of him, to be a part of the perfection that he originally intended for us to have in our existence. Hebrews puts it as so “that we might be partakers of his holiness,” so that we can be like him. I know many, many parents who hope that their children are nothing like them and someday I’ll be one of those parents. God doesn’t have to worry about that.
The flipside of God being a father is that we are his children. That seems fairly obvious. Still there is a depth of meaning to this idea.
Because God is our father, he takes responsibility for us and he makes sure he knows that he cares by letting us know when we’re not doing things quite right. In fact, that makes it desirable that God lets us know when we’re doing wrong. If he didn’t, then that would mean we had no relationship with him at all.
“For if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.” verse 8, KJV
Obviously, no one is perfect which is why we all deserve a little discipline. But because we receive it, we have a relationship with God, a familial relationship with him, one that has no comparison.
Lent, then, is more than just giving up and not having. It’s a time when the true relationship between us and God is evident, when we’re reminded that we’re family. Perhaps more than any other liturgical season, Lent is about the love of God for us and the lengths he is willing to go to for us. It is no coincidence that after a time of penitence we have Good Friday and Easter as its culmination. Both tell us how God loves us and there is no greater love than this.