Becoming a parent, I have discovered a new kind of love. It’s unlike anything I’ve known personally, although I’ve always seen it reflected in the way my parents have loved me. I’ve even talked about this kind of love as a theoretical construct, but I’d never experienced it for myself. Sometimes it feels so intense and passionate that I cry. But mostly I’m overwhelmed not with ardor, but with the implacable constancy of my love for her. It’s like pondering the ground I walk on: it’s always there, it always has been, and always will and nothing I could do would ever change that. Like looking out over an endless field and realizing that no matter what I do – walk, run, stand still – the ground will never move or drop away.
I love my daughter with that kind of love. It’s not a reciprocal love. It’s not because of what she does for me. She isn’t developmentally capable yet of loving me back. Actually, she makes my life harder. But it doesn’t matter; I love her simply because she’s my child. Whether she’s smiling, crying, kicking, sleeping, or spitting up on the clean onesie we just dressed her in; I love her the same.
As a Christian, I find myself facing a real moral bind. According to how I read the Bible, I’m inclined to believe that we are called to show this kind of love to everyone. That blows my mind. A year ago I could barely conceive of what this kind of love would feel like towards my own daughter, never mind towards other people. But it is this kind of love that God calls us to show to everyone: a constant, unselfish concern for the well-being of all people. I wish I could say I’m good at such a thing, or that I even know how it’s possible, but I can’t say that because I don’t. That’s what is frightening about how much I love my daughter – it is so fierce that it excludes everyone else, including myself. How could I show the same kind of unflinching, unwavering love to other people? And who would even expect me to do so?
We are all God’s children, and God’s love is even purer than the love I feel for my child. I won’t ever be able to match God’s love towards the world, but I have to try. It’s what Jesus wanted. This is the bar Jesus set for us in order to consider ourselves his disciples: to love people, not because of what they can do for us, but simply because they are people. You just can’t call yourself a Christian without loving others.
Let’s face it: this is kind of crazy. Because no other human being is as cute and adorable as my daughter. Plus, she’s just so helpless. She can’t do anything on her own, really; she still needs help going to sleep. But that’s how all of us look to God. Somewhere deep inside each of us, there is something absolutely adorable to God. And I mean to use that word in its basic root meaning: something to be adored. How insane is that, that God would find something in every one of us that God would adore? But this is how parents feel towards their children, even if no one else can see it.
And of course, to God, we are all helpless. We don’t know our right from our left, or whether we’re coming or going. We think we’re pretty amazing, and I guess we have centuries of technological civilization to support claims of our species’ awesomeness. But look at us: we’re still the frail, fragile, flawed creatures we’ve always been. We cheat each other and we hurt each other and we die. We’re helpless.
It makes complete sense that human beings would use the metaphor of a parent to refer to God. It’s the most natural relationship in which we feel that kind of selfless, unswerving love for another person. I look at my beautiful daughter and it breaks my heart to think that something bad might ever happen to her. I would give up most everything to keep her safe, to help her grow and become her best self. I don’t expect other parents to feel that way about my daughter, but I do expect that they would understand how I feel. If God feels that way about all of God’s children – all of humanity – then the least I can do is respect that. To love one another, without interest in what others can do for us, this is the prime directive for anyone interested in following Christ. This is what makes us Christians. If I can show just a fraction of the love I feel for my daughter to other people, then maybe I can call myself Christ’s disciple.