Hermeneutics of Fatherhood

Hermeneutics of Fatherhood

Hermeneutics of Fatherhood 150 150 Joy and Matthew Steem
Larry Norman – God bless him for shaking things up when he asked, “why should the devil have all the good music” – had a song with the lines “forget your hexagram, you’ll soon feel fine.” The tune ran through my mind after thinking about a great tomish text I finished about Christian Hermeneutics.

Yup. Larry Norman, hermeneutics, and hexagrams.

Though I very much respect the intellectual rigour that is meted out by scholars when they discuss this topic, and I think it’s hugely important to know at least a bit about hermeneutics (mainly because we ALL have one whether like it or not), I do have a problem with stupendous complexity in theology. Yes, sometimes my problem is simply in wading through it – because I am not as clever as I wish – but I mean especially unwarranted complexity.

If you took any medieval history, or just read a few books covering religion, you will have heard the question which was supposedly agonised over by some church fathers of an earlier age: namely, how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin. Now I have friends who would immediately scoff at this. And while it might sound a bit goofy, there were valid reasons for asking this question! Probably not to me or you, but for those trying to specify an exactitude when it came to theological issues.

Exactitude is cool; however, it can also lead to strain. And while we should strain to ferret out the complexity of scripture because of its relation to so many aspects of our lives, the bible is more than merely a theological treatise, or history or morality guide: it’s also meant to describe our relationship to a God – our God – and the people.

Within just Protestant hermeneutics there are various approaches and models: the dispensational model, covenantal model, new-covenantal model, amongst others; then, there is the discriminational principle, the christo-centric principle, context principle, context principle etc etc. And that doesn’t include the techniques! There is special literary analysis, lexical-syntactical analysis … the list goes on. And I am in no way making light of these. In the field of literature and history, for example, we (Matthew and I) hold dearly to our favorite vantage points. All of us do in whatever field we specialize in. The point I am trying to make is that bible reading can be really complex.

And that’s cool.

I have wondered if, for me anyway, a hermeneutic of just plain ol’ simple Fatherhood might be cooler than trying to fit all the theological conundrums into my head. In the bible the attributes of God are described via the use of numerous metaphors. However, a primary theme is parental images. Really super parental ones at that.

I find it easy sometimes to think of God in terms of forgiver of trespasses (you know, like, when I was knowingly a jackass to someone and felt repentant later) or giver of peace (like when I get an unexpected bill I am temporarily unable to pay) or that sovereign power that I suddenly call out to when I find myself driving on a patch of black ice coming over a hill in the dark. For me that stuff falls into the providential. And providential is God too, but it’s different.

No, I am talking about parenthood. Like when a boy crushes my heart and I know my mum will listen to the whole long tale. (And then take my side afterward.) Like when your beloved cat or dog gets literally unmade in a messy road accident, and you need some big strong arms to fold around you while you cry your guts out. THAT parenthood. The one that’s close because it’s trustworthy and warm and good and lovely.

That’s the hermeneutics of the Fatherhood I am talking about (though its parenthood, really.) The one that is associated in terms of affection, of protection, compassion, of gentleness, and even sweet gift-giving (even if it’s soft peace-of-mind after the heart crushing you got form a lousy boy).

If you have ever read a book of theory (politics, religion, philosophy etc) by someone, and then read a biography about them, your view after reading the bio might be more replete afterward since you will have new details in which to fit a framework of why they thought the way they did. I think this might be similar for our thinking of God. The theology part of scripture is cool and handy and all that; however, for me scripture also contains a bit of the biographical aspect of God too. Jesus said, “if you have seen me you have seen God” (seen the way that God behaves, feels, and desires to interact with us). I think it’s safe to say that Jesus was telling us that from his demonstrated actions while here, we can base certain expectations on his – and God’s – character.

Getting back to hermeneutics though: I often wonder if sometimes it annoys God that we are prone to see scripture – and thus God too – through complex hermeneutics. Jesus says that God is our father. He never instructed the common folk to understand the context of Greek and Hebrew or how Aristotelian logic can be useful in exegesis. (I am in no way knocking these important things! What I am questioning is the fitting of scripture though a theology.)

Jesus never said “ok dudettes and dudes, you understand that all through scripture metaphors are just literary illusions that demonstrate aspects of God, right? My dad is not actually a chicken. At which point Jesus stares at the disciples all serious like, and then goes on: “so when I say “father” I am just using a metaphor and you can’t read into it that much because then, like, you’d be blaspheming by not recognizing that God as an all powerful being can never be understood by mere humans.”

This is very cheeky of me, but yet … just how literal can we take the words of Jesus?

I once heard that our personality comes from God. Except, of course, God’s personality just like his being, is capital “P,” where ours is just small “p.” And so I am totally good for assuming that my concept of parenthood/fatherhood is infinitely smaller when it comes to God’s idea; however, Jesus simply said for us to assume God as father.

This is fairly awesome as far as how much love I can expect from God. But then again, we are told that God is love, and that he put into our hearts the cry for abba father.


Joy and Matthew Steem

Matthew and Joy Steem are passionate about exploring a vibrant spiritual life: a tradition all too frequently perceived, from both inside and out, as drab and bereft of true joy. Since obtaining grad degrees in the humanities, they have contributed to Off the Page (a ministry of Our Daily Bread), Relief Journal: Art and Faith Unbound, Mythlore, White Gulls & Wild Birds: Essays on C.S. Lewis Inklings and Friends & Thomas Merton (St Macrina press), Converge Magazine, Clarion: A journal of Spirituality and Justice, and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics.

All posts by Joy and Matthew Steem