Reflecting God's Image as Parents
Genesis 1:27 states God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
You notice how he required both male and female to represent His image. And don’t get bogged down with image as a visual representation, this refers to his character, his nature. Scripture backs this up because it uses attributes such as righteousness and holiness when saying we were created in the image of God. That is especially true for Christ, because God is spirit, and yet Jesus is His physical representation. Therefore, it is by reflecting his nature that we represent and reflect his image.
According to Genesis, men and women were created as two-sides of the same coin, as it were, in depicting God’s attributes. And it is the specific application of these traits as parents I will be referencing.
Look at the characteristics ascribed to God in the following scriptures. Notice how they depict attributes common to moms and dads respectively? Don’t get me wrong, there’s no mutual exclusivity here. Husbands and wives can and should demonstrate characteristics from both sides of the list. But I think we can agree, there’s a predominance in the association of these traits to men and women. We can see these principles applied clearly from how God utilizes them toward His children.
God’s Traits as reflected in
Compassionate, merciful, longsuffering, protector, comforter
Imparts wisdom, direction, future-planning, guides you through trials
2 Corinthians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles...
Psalm 73:23-24 Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.
Exodus 34:6-7 The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin …
Proverbs 3:11-12 My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.
Matthew 23:37-39 How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Hebrews 4:16. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Proverbs 3:5, 6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.
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We are a direct reflection of his: power, glory, love, mercy, grace, and redemption - just by virtue of us being here. But God wants more from us, he wants our participation in this. That’s the whole idea behind reflecting his image. I believe there is divine significance behind the narrative of God being our Father (or parent because he poses both areas of these characteristics) and then creating us so we may also be parents. We too can experience the incredible parallels between God as heavenly father and us as earthly parents.
Introduction to Near & Far Love
Do you see how the left side, mom’s description, is geared toward immediate day-to-day concerns and needs? And that dad’s side has a future-readiness component?
Before I expand on that, have you ever noticed how many prophecies in the Bible line up with near and far scenarios? Where an event foretold that is about to happen, is also a prediction of what will happen in the distant future. The most obvious of these is Jesus’ coming. The first time was a near event, the second a far one. And check it out, the near event was all about comfort and compassion, serving our great need for salvation. Healing and forgiveness. Not unlike the heart of a mother. The second coming, the far event, is all about your future, the big picture: your ultimate salvation and living with God & Christ forever. That is the heart of the Father. And you see how the first event, “Near Love”, absolutely makes the second, “Far Love”, event possible?
Let me illustrate it another way: Have you heard the expression “Christmas means absolutely nothing...without Easter”? That Near Love event of Christmas is a moot point unless the Far Love event, a risen savior, takes place. Same with your child rearing: all the Near Love provided to your child will be an empty gesture without the Far Love application of a personal relationship with Christ. It can be summarized like this: Near Love is the means to the Far Love end. So yes, literally it is the means to an end, the all-important end.
Back to Moms & Dads
Let’s get back into applying this to moms and dads with some positive Near & Far Love examples.
Moms are nurturing and inherently possess those Near Love qualities. Whereas dads are driven by making sure their kids are future-ready, through planning and challenging their children to reach their full potential.
These two traits seem to come so naturally to men and women respectively. However, it is difficult (not impossible as illustrated by video links below) to establish their interconnected objective separately. In other words, those characteristics need each other. On their own they are one dimensional. Together, two dimensional. And of course, God is required to make it truly three dimensional and complete.
Now, it can be challenging for parents with their respective types of love, to act in concert in a child’s upbringing. It is difficult because this is a moving target of percentages as the child grows: More Near Love than Far is required at first. Slowly this should reverse course over time. It doesn’t mean a mom feels less Near Love, it just becomes more of a supporting role to the father’s Far Love at some point. Whereas Far Love is subordinate to Near Love at first.
As an example:
Let’s say your little girl is learning to ride a bike and falls off and gets hurt. That’s going to be Near Love time, not a Far Love one. However, a dozen years later she’s into BMX riding and goes off a jump beyond her abilities and breaks her arm. Sure, there’s compassion for her injury, but a Far Love discussion about risk and consequences is going to be in order as well.
Otherwise, you may see this:
For first example, perhaps Dad pushes ‘life lessons’ too hard or too soon without compassion or empathy. That’s going to distance the child from dad and moot the important message dad does have to share.
For second scenario, mom not letting go and allowing the maturing of the child. Or, not allowing a child to experience consequences to their choices or actions because they are focused on making an immediate pain go away.
As Nick Sabien the Ohio State football coach has said: “There are two types of pain, the pain of discipline and the pain of disappointment.” As your child grows, it is essential that you develop in them self-discipline so that the pain of disappointment is well mitigated. This is a true application of Far Love. However, it can be delivered through a Near Love approach.
Yet there will be a struggle between dads wanting to prepare their children for adult life by applying responsibilities and accountability accordingly, and moms, who although understand this, have a hard time seeing their child struggle in these areas because of their innate concern for the child’s wellbeing.
Let me give an example of when those two types of love came to an intersection at my house. My oldest son worked hard toward the goal of attending the US Naval Academy for college. He got the call from our congressman in January of his senior year of high school that he had indeed gotten an appointment to attend. We were all very excited, but I knew at that moment the count down for my wife started. She had six months to prepare herself for his leaving to the other side of the country with very limited contact. Although there were some rough moments for her, overall, she did pretty well keeping it together. However, she will readily admit it was an extremely difficult summer to get through. That Near Love Band-Aid was ripped off without anesthetic. I, on the other hand, was mostly patting myself on the back. Saying “I did my job as a dad. I raised a kid that was mentally, physically and emotionally ready to take on a real challenge and step out and be an adult!” It was extremely gratifying seeing my Far Love goals paying off.
When the time came, we all flew out to Annapolis and watched our son take his oath during Induction Day. That was a Thursday, and we flew home Sunday. When we touched down and began to taxi, I turned on my phone to discover a voice message from a Maryland area code. My first thought was there was an accident, but it turned out to be a chaplain connected with the Naval Academy.
When I called him back, I was told our son had made up his mind to leave the Naval Academy. Although he had come up with reasons why he wanted to quit, the chaplain and I agreed it was really because he had never been away from his family before and was experiencing being homesick. He just didn’t realize it. Nevertheless, we all got on a campaign of sending him letters of encouragement. A lot of Near Love support with emphasis on staying true to his long-sought goal. We hoped he would trust our belief in his future because of our daily love and care for him leading up to that point. And as devastating as this news was for all of us, especially to mom, to her credit, I believe she was the first to vocalize the position that we would not accept him quitting plebe summer. He would have to see it through, and we could evaluate any thought of leaving after that. As hard as it was for her, she managed to make her Near Love instincts subordinate to the Far Love goal required to ensure our son stepped up to his responsibilities.
Fortunately, it never did come down to that because by the time we were able to talk with him on the phone a week later, he was over it and excited for his new adventure. He’s since gone on to graduate and become a marine officer.
Teaming up to Visioneer your child
That was an example of both a transitioning period, and of mom and dad working together to apply Near & Far Love as a team. What I’d call Visioneering. Andy Stanley wrote a great book by this title, Visioneering, and I highly recommend it.
In case you are new to this term, Wiki’s definition: it is the process of building your concept or dream into a workable application. It is the engineering of a vision. That part really appeals to guys - engineering of a vision! Totally worthy of some Tim Allen grunts...
However, I prefer Andy Stanley’s definition because of its sense of necessity and determination:
“It is a clear
mental picture of what could be,
fueled by the conviction that it should be.”
Can you think of anything that this would apply to: perhaps a house you want to build or remodel? Maybe a car restoration. In my wife’s case, a craft room, her she cave. I’m pretty sure I heard her give out some Tim Allen grunts over that one. But better yet, what if you applied visioneering to your marriage? Well, that’s for another article. But for today, let’s apply this to your children - do you have such a conviction?
There are certainly worthy earthly ways of applying visioneering to your child, and I’ll reference those in a moment, but applying that clear mental picture of your child’s salvation will always be the priority. Because not only could it be, but because it should be!
So, let’s break it down this way: The Vision is where you want to be, a preferred future, right? And a mission is how you are going to get to that preferred future. The Vision, which is the far love of the Father, is accomplished by the Mission - that being the Near Love of the mother characteristics.
The vision is heaven through salvation. The mission to get there is accomplished through love, which cultivates trust, hope and faith in the vision.
And guess what, the Bible is filled with verses supporting God doing this very thing, visioneering, with you and me.
Philippians 1:6–”And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. God is working in you now - performing the mission - to enable its completion, the vision, when Christ comes.
Further in his letter to the Philippians (3:12), Paul says: “I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize.” Paul is working toward the goal, the prize, and he is able to do so through Christ working in him, working the mission by taking a hold of Paul.
And perhaps the best, if not most well-known: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Sacrificing his son was the supreme Near Love event so that the Far Love goal could be met – that being our salvation and being with him in eternity. I’d say that was the ultimate visioneering!
Practical Visioneering by Parents
Let me give you an example of how I believe my mother applied visioneering to me when I was quite young. Early on she made comments about me being smart like her, that I had a lot of potential. This created a lens by which I viewed myself. I believed I was capable of good grades, even in hard subjects. After all, my mom excelled in microbiology. She even did my dad’s homework for him in college, and he ended up being a dentist. What’s more, her comment connected me into a family accountability. “Smarts” were in the genes, I had no excuse!
There is incredible power in this type of subtle visioneering and can easily leverage dad’s skill in Far Love by identifying future qualities their child will benefit from developing. It also incorporates Mom’s Near Love abilities in how they’re applied. Teamwork!
You might want to take a moment and think of the subtle, yet powerful messages you can offer your child. You don’t have to connect all the dots. In fact, it’s better when you don’t. This leads to them more effectively internalizing the message since they came to the conclusion themselves as I did.
Offer compliments or comments about various talents - or even better, when you feel they lack a virtue. Compliment them on even the tiniest shred of evidence that they display in such an area. Like: “Wow, that must have been hard. But you know, you’re like me, I just never wanted to give up.” Visioneer them toward virtues like the Code of Conduct knights of medieval times did. If you possess these traits, you will have unlimited opportunities for earthly success.
Why we need to establish Near Love to accomplish Far Love goals
In wrapping this up I am charging Dads to also reflect Near Love as God does, and Moms to incorporate and support Far Love as it is the end game. It is the same strategy God employs for our salvation.
He shows us His mercy and grace via Near Love at first. He compels us to taste and see that he is good. He invites us into his presence so that we will experience his peace, and promises compassion over us when we are in need. This in turn compels us to trust his Far Love plans for us… salvation from our sins. We are more open to having our paths directed by God because of his daily care, which will inevitably lead to his objective: our being in heaven with him for eternity.
Just as I referenced Christ’s first and second coming earlier - where one makes the other possible: it is God’s mom characteristics, (daily Love and compassionate sacrifice) that makes his Dad characteristics, (as beautifully stated by God in Jeremiah: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future), now possible.
So, parents and someday parents, I hope I’ve made the case that when the Bible says you were created in the image of God, it incorporates being a model for God’s love. We were made with a role to reflect aspects of God’s image - His character. By doing so, your child will be able to relate to, and transition to, God as their ultimate Father & Mother. This is accomplished when they clearly see your love in the Lord and his love in you.
- Men and women reflect character traits of God as seen in Near & Far love.
- Parents are demonstrating this plan of God’s when they apply it in raising their children
- Far Love is the vision and Near Love is how that is accomplished: the mission. Just as God applies his love to us.
- Visioneering combines both these as a strategy.
- Work as a team and focus on that main goal: God’s Far Love plan for all of us - spending eternity with Him.