Is God Primarily a King or a Father...or Both?

Is God a father, a king, or a fatherly king? Setting aside the fact that the image of God as a king is antequated among today's democratic loving people, let's say he's a fatherly king (since both images are to be found in the Bible). Okay? Then there are at least three views about God's relationship to his creatures:

Is he 1) a king to everyone but a father only to the elect; 2) a father to everyone but a king only to the elect; or 3) both a king and a father to everyone?

Let's look at these images and see if we can make sense of any of them:

Let's immediately dismiss views 2 and 3 above, since no Christian would affirm God is not a king over every creature even if they don't recognize him, and because the Christian claims a special family relationship with God that others do not share. Okay so far? [If this is not okay please tell me what you mean by kingship and fatherhood and I'll see what can be said about your view].

This leaves view number 1. What is a good king? A good king enacts impartial justice to bring peace in his kingdom. He's impartial toward his subjects. His role is the Justice of the Peace. As a good father though, the king must treat his sons differently. What is a good father? A good father will show partiality to his children, or favor them because he loves them. He's partial to them. He loves them.

Now it's quite possible for a good king to love his subjects, and a good father must show impartial love toward all of his children. But a good king must be impartial toward his subjects, while a good father should be partial toward his sons. The good father will always favor his sons over any outsider, while a good king should not favor anyone in his kingdom. So it just doesn't seem possible that a good king can treat his subjects like sons, nor can a good father treat his sons like subjects.

Take the issue of punishment, for instance. A good king may enact stiff punishments for crimes committed based on deterence, reformation and retribution (although no moral sense can be made of the latter motivation). A good father though, will not punish his children in the same ways a good king should (what father, for instance, would ever kill his son for any crime, even if he was the king, even a good one?).

Christians believe God acts like a king when he punishes sin. The person who sins must die. That is a kingly image which show no partiality, and as such God is primarily viewed as a king. If God were primarily viewed as a father to his children, he would not demand this punishment. He would be more like the father in the Parable of the Lost Son, who simply accepts his wayward son back based on his repentance.

So if God is a fatherly king then we have a huge problem, for one of these images must be primary. As a king he cannot act as a father. As a father he cannot act like a king. If God is a king to everyone but a father only to the elect, then he is not acting as a good king. Why? Because inside of his kingdom he's showing favoritism towards a certain group of people.

So which is it? Is God primarily a king or a father? He cannot be both.

16 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

BTW, this has little to do with the atonement. The whole reason the atonement was supposedly necessary in the first place is because of who Christians view God to be. Such a demand for punishment makes God out to be primarily a king. Therefore, in my opinion, Christians cannot view God primarily as a father.

lowendaction said...

John,

I'm afraid your attempt at trying to fit God into one of your convienient "cubby hole" categories, will only serve to humor those who are ultimately trying to disprove God versus those attempting to better understand Him. That is to say, if God is the creator, which I believe He is, than for Him to posess these two complex and seemingly opposing qualities is a reasonable possibilty.

Again, you are attempting to define a being that is (even if only in theory for you) far superior to us, and yet you use human logic and constraints to do so. That doesn't make sense to me.

I would also like to point out, that perhaps you should either widen your control group of Christians, or dig into the bible a little deeper, because your presumption that Christians would reject point 3 is false.

God is in fact described as both Father and King to ALL mankind. The catch to all of this (and this does include salvation) is that we must however accept this fact for it to "work". We do not change anything, nore does He change for us. It is as though there is a paralel existance to ours, where God simply is. And it is our prerogative to acknowledge this existance or simply choose to ignore it (or, in your case, attempt to explain it away).

I'm just curious. Is a post like this, just another attempt to chip away at the supposed fallacy of God, or are you truely interested in discovering the possible existance of God? In other words, do you presuppose that God exists when you ask a question like this, or is it more like, "We're really talking about nothing here, but just to make sure that everyone understands that this nothing really doesn't exist, I'm going to point out how illogical and un-scientific nothing is."

I appologize if I sound harsh or overly cynical...the holy juice hasn't kicked in yet (coffee, in case you were wondering;)

good times.

John W. Loftus said...

ldaction said...God is in fact described as both Father and King to ALL mankind.

Then is God partial or impartial to all of mankind? A father would not reject his children if they disobeyed. A king would reject his subjects if they disobeyed.

do you presuppose that God exists when you ask a question like this?

Of course not, silly! Why do you even ask? If your God exists then I see a problem you need to come to grips with. That's my argument.

Dillie-O said...

Then is God partial or impartial to all of mankind? A father would not reject his children if they disobeyed. A king would reject his subjects if they disobeyed.

I think I need a little more of an explanation of "rejection" here. If you're talking about punishment, yes a father would punish his children if he was a loving and just father. How just is it to say, "The rule is you can't hit your sister." But if my daughter does hit her sister, I let it slide?

I think God treats all people on earth equally, he will equally punish believers and non-believers for a sin, but He also has the grace to not give the "final judgement" upon our first sin.

This is the balance that exists between king and father in God.

John W. Loftus said...

Rejection? A good king wouldn't have any trouble taking off a person's head. A good father would not do this to his children.

lowendaction said...

A father lets his children grow up and make their own decisions as adults. He does not wish to loose any of his children, but this is the reality of any parent. Either you allow them to leave the nest, or you lock them in the cellar...at which point you've got some other issues which need addressing.

If I'm so silly, then why do you continue to make arguements that are based on an existing God, and yet refuse to remove your biased of his non-exsistance for the sake of this discussion?

I appreciate your concern for my sanity, but the truth is, I like a little mystery in my cerial. From my perspective the name of the game is balance. I simply don't put enough faith in the "great minds of men" to be a pure skeptic. I actually believe that it's okay to have some things that are simply beyond our current ability to grasp/explain. Again, this must be in healthy proportion to that which can be tangibly proven. I think if mans own ability at figuring things out was that great, we'd be living in a much better world today.

That is the logical counterpart to God's non-existance, is it not? Man's superiority on earth? You say God hasn't succesfully proven Himself to be who He claims to be...well, I say man hasn't done that hot either.

GordonBlood said...

Yeah... I dont have a whole lot to say here. I think this might be a problem for someone who really thinks the biblical writers are trying to either make God sound like a concrete father figure with all the trapping or a king with all the trappings. I am assuming, along with writers such as Witherington who I have heard lecture on this topic before, that they are referring to certain traits of each role. Of course God is not going to have every trait of a human father and of course God will not have every trait of a human king. This seems to me to be so obvious that I dont know why it warranted a post. Of course this blog spends approximately 25% of its time on hammering away at the problem of evil so perhaps I should be thankful for having something new to say.

GordonBlood said...

Hmmm while im responding John I would ask you a quick question... You are a fairly well educated person with at least some knowledge of theology... why do you subscribe to such an anti-intellectual blog as ex-christian articles. net or whatever its called. Having read it all I could do is a) chuckle at the terribly obtuse ignorance of basic theology and hermeneutics and b) sigh at the terribly obtuse ignorance of basic theology and hermeneutics. For example the traditional goodies such as "the universe is not 6000 years old hence Jesus was not ressurected" or "the old testament is not always perfectly historically accurate thus, of course, the whole thing is wrong". John, to be blunt, you are supporting what seems to me little more than a triumph of ignorance (the blog, not your own personal views)

Jospeh said...

If I can stand back and talk bigger picture for a moment: I think what is at issue here is whether we have a reliable portrait of God's character in the Bible (especially as try to harmonize the Old and New Testaments, which emphasize very different things about God).

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Jospeh:
You ask:"whether we have a reliable portrait of God's character in the Bible (especially as try to harmonize the Old and New Testaments, which emphasize very different things about God)."

But most scholars (other than Christian Fundamentalists) hold that even the Old Testament shows a number of different pictures of God, a growing series of views towards God. Thus, most scholars for the past hundred years have considered that the Pentateuch -- rather than being the work of Moses or any single writer -- is a (rather badly edited) joining of four distinct sources each of which show a different -- and successively more 'remote' and 'transcendent' picture of God.
(Rather than go into details here, I'd suggest you read the article on the 'documentary hypothesis' in Wikipedia -- yes, this is not always a reliable source, but this article does an accurate job of summarizing the ideas it discusses. For a better discussion -- especially if you have Questia -- read THE PENTATEUCH IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen by Ernest Nicholson.)

Jason said...

"Is God Primarily a King or a Father...or Both?"

How does this debunk Christianity? Seems like the purpose of this topic is more for argumentative purposes then for an intelligent discussion.

jbrunt said...

I think most Christians would choose 3, as lowendaction pointed out. God as father of all is pretty well reflected in the parable of the prodigal son. I think most read that story to say that God is father even to those who do not want to share in their inheritance as his children. That is, he's a father even to those who do not recognize him.

This was cute, though:
"what father, for instance, would ever kill his son for any crime, even if he was the king, even a good one?"
I guess it's fitting that the one act that defines God as good king and good father to all Christians is giving his son to be tortured and killed for the crimes that everyone else committed.

So it does seem your definitions of good king and good father don't fit your image of what God should be. But as discussed above, that's the problem with rationalizing over something that by definition has "ways are not your ways. . " and thoughts are not your thoughts," etc. as it says in Isaiah. I think all Christians would accept this as true, and it should be included in any definition of a hypothetical God for a debunker to debunk. As such, it should by definition be inadequate to attempt a definition of God by any combination of semantic construction built by people.

Shygetz said...

jbrunt:

I have a serious problem when people use the "His ways are not your ways" argument to try to clear up apparent discrepencies in the actions of God.

If the actions of God do not resemble the actions of a father, then what does it mean when God is described as a father? If God is described as good, but His good is not the same as man's "good", then what does it mean to call God "good"?

When you state that words change definitions when applied to God, then you simply state that God cannot be described. If that is the case, then how can a Christian (or anyone who subscribes to such an idea) claim to have ANY knowledge of the nature of God?

jbrunt said...

shygetz,
Those are metaphors and analogies , not definitions.
If a single parent were to say, "I was both mother and father to my children," it would be silly to conclude that that parent doesn't exist if he or she doesn't have physical characteristics of both sexes.

It is also true that the description, "both mother and father to. . ." adds a lot to our understanding of that person and how they view their relationship with their children.

As for the "your ways are not my ways," either that has to be part of the definition of any god, or your assumptions include, "if god is not as great as you claim him to be," which is a pre-argument debunking.

Shygetz said...

So you are saying God as Father and God as King are metaphors. I agree. But metaphorical expressions are used to highlight the similarities that one thing has to another. Yet when it is pointed out that God does not act like both a King and a Father, you say that His ways are not our Ways. So, the metaphor ceases to be useful.

And again, since you say that His ways are not our ways, how can you describe God at all?

or your assumptions include, "if god is not as great as you claim him to be," which is a pre-argument debunking.

I don't understand what you are saying. Can you elaborate, please?

jbrunt said...

shygetz,

So you are saying God as Father and God as King are metaphors. I agree. But metaphorical expressions are used to highlight the similarities that one thing has to another.

There seems to be 2 issues. One is of metaphor in general. Metaphors do highlight similarities. All metaphors have rough edges, though, where they break down. That doesn't mean they are entirely uselss. I can say that my car is a rocket on the highway in one instance, and my car is a racehorse in another. There is some overlap in the two, but it should be easy to define rocket and racehorse such that my car can be neither. Just because you can define car and racehorse in such a way does not make the initial metaphors non-informative.

The second issue is of God's thoughts v. our thoughts. On the one hand, it means all we have are imperfect metaphors to describe him. On the other hand, particular to the argument here, just because we can't understand how God can be a good father and a good king does not mean that he can't understand how to be good father and good king.

I don't understand what you are saying. Can you elaborate, please?
I just meant that the your ways/my ways thing should not be dismissed so easily, because its somewhat axiomatic of what any god is. I understand that you don't like it as a justification for not understanding what God does, but that's part and parcel of having an idea of God.