There is no metaphor for God in scripture that is more powerful than that of “Father”. Thus, it is little surprise that the theme of God as Father dominates sermons every year on Father’s Day (especially for low church Protestants that eschew the liturgical calendar).
This year the sermon our pastor preached was based on the prodigal son. Who doesn’t resonate with the father who bucks social convention and gathers up his robes to greet his wayward child with an unqualified embrace of love and acceptance? The sermon concluded with a prayer that all the fathers could be more like their heavenly Father.
That’s fine if you remain focused on the parable of the prodigal son. But what if you consider the portrayal of God the Father elsewhere in the Bible, such as in Lamentations? In this book the prophet describes God as destroying the city of Jerusalem at the hands of foreign oppressors as a form of punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Incredibly, the text attributes even such horrors as women cannibalizing their own children to this divine punishment:
10 With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.
11 The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed her foundations.
12 The kings of the earth did not believe, nor did any of the peoples of the world, that enemies and foes could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
13 But it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous.
14 Now they grope through the streets as if they were blind. They are so defiled with blood that no one dares to touch their garments.
15 “Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them. “Away! Away! Don’t touch us!” When they flee and wander about, people among the nations say, “They can stay here no longer.”
16 The Lord himself has scattered them; he no longer watches over them. The priests are shown no honor, the elders no favor. (Lamentations 4:10-16)
What frustrates me about Father’s Day sermons is not that they appeal to teachings like the parable of the prodigal son as models for human fathers. What bothers me is that they make no effort to connect this use of the Father God metaphor with horrifying passages like Lamentations 4. What would it mean if a human Father could offer a child an unqualified embrace one day, and the next decimate him or her to the point of the child cannibalizing the grandchildren?
I’ll tell you this: A Father’s Day sermon based on Lamentations 4:10-16 may not be as sure a crowd pleaser as the prodigal son, but I guarantee that not a single congregant would forget it.