My principal problem with the “God as Heavenly Father” analogy

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FATHER AND SON PLAY ON SHORE AT SUNRISE.

Image from Reuters

In Christianity, it’s common to describe God as being a kind of super father character. He always watches over you, knows you better than you know yourself, protects you, helps you grow through giving you challenges, etc…  These mostly sound like the sort of things that good fathers do, and they’re things that I aspire to as a father myself*.  I do want to know my son extremely well, protect him, and give him challenges that offer him the opportunity to expand his mind and learn new things about himself and the world every day.  And since he’s my son, I especially want to ensure that he has the opportunity to get to know me – if anything to help him learn what I’ve learned and not repeat my mistakes.  In these ways, I can certainly understand the “God as Heavenly Father” analogy.  But it has long occurred to me that there’s one major problem with this analogy right up front.

And it’s this: My son has no reason to be uncertain about the fact that I exist.  I’ve ensured that my existence is unambiguously clear to him.  Why?  Because it’s the crucial first thing I need to establish in order to be a father.  I can’t get to know my son, protect him, or help him grow if he doesn’t even know I exist in the first place.  So I’ve worked to remove all doubt from my son’s mind about this.  If I failed to ensure that my son knew I existed, I think it would be fair to call me an abysmally awful father.

So how well does the Christian God do in this regard? Has the Christian God removed all doubt of his existence from the minds of his children?  The answer is a resoundingly simple “No.”  The existence of non-believers, as well as believers in non-Christian religions**, is all we need to conclude that the Christian God has failed to remove all doubt from his children’s minds about his existence***.  And this is a problem given the other common descriptions of God – namely that he is all powerful, knows all, and is infinitely benevolent towards his creations.

So either:

  1. God wants us to know who he is but can’t, or
  2. God can show himself to us but won’t.

Option 1 means that God isn’t all-powerful or all-knowing. Option 2 means that God isn’t infinitely benevolent (i.e. not the super father character he’s described as).

Now, when I present this criticism to believers, the consistent response is that God would be violating our free will if he removed all doubt from our minds about his existence. We have to choose to follow him, their response goes.  As my criticism is a variation on the Argument from Divine Hiddenness, I can’t say I’m surprised to see people responding this way.  But when I ask believers why it’s ok (if not mandatory to being a good father) for me to remove all doubt from my son’s mind about my existence, but not ok for God to do it for his children, I get blank looks followed by some variation on it requiring faith to believe.  And that, of course, leads to other interesting discussions.

 

*Except for the “always watches over you” part. Kids need unsupervised time to grow and develop their own self-worth and capacity to solve problems on their own.  The last thing my son needs is for me to be watching over his shoulder all the time.

**See Hinduism, certain variations of Buddhism, folk religions, etc…

***I suppose that you could go so far as to doubt the sincerity of all non-believers and non-Christians and argue that they really do believe in the Christian God – but are just denying it.  You’d need to have really good evidence to back up that claim, though, and I haven’t encountered any influential theologians or mainstream Christian apologists who are willing to go that far.

 

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