BEFORE you start wondering which happy husband or wife is blessed with such a father-in-law – our own are pretty good, by the way – we’re not actually talking about earthly men. We’re talking, literally, about our Father in Heaven, who also happens to be the father of our spouse and thus our Heavenly Father-in-Law.
A blog post by Sheila Wray Gregoire, from To Love, Honour and Vacuum, got us thinking about this idea when she noted that God is also our Father-in-Law. “So what?”, you might ask. What’s the big difference anyway between a father and a father-in-law?
One thing that springs to mind is that fathers care deeply about their children. Before they feel comfortable about “giving away” their son or daughter on their wedding day, they want to be reassured that the person who will hold their child’s heart for life is a good person, able to bring out the best in them, and to help them grow in holiness.
All fathers want to see their child happily and fruitfully married to someone worthy of them, someone who is even more committed to their child’s welfare than they are themselves. Prior to the wedding, a father carefully scrutinises everyone son or daughter dates, managing his desire to make the choice for his child against his respect for their independence. The cultural tradition of a male suitor asking the father of his hoped-for bride for permission to marry his daughter speaks of the social awareness of this broader reality – that the father is responsible for ensuring that his child’s spouse is a good and worthy person. And with this permission, comes the implicit expectation that his trust will not be betrayed.
It’s a comforting thought to know that our Father in Heaven cares even more about our wellbeing than even the most devoted of human fathers. He loves us, cares about us, listens to us when we pray, hears our cries, walks with us through valleys of heartache and rejoices with us in times of joy. He is the fulfilment of everything our heart desires in a father.
But God is not just our Father, he’s also the Father of our spouse. He also cares, loves, listens, cries and rejoices with our spouse. And, like a human father-in-law, he cares about how we treat his child. It’s one thing to have a human person as a father-in-law, the one to whom we are accountable for the care of their son or daughter. It’s another thing again to realise that our spouse is also the child of our Heavenly Father, and therefore our Father-in-Law is none other than God himself.
With this awareness comes the understanding that God expects us to be the loving husband or wife our spouse deserves. In the inevitable woundedness that arises in married life, we often focus on our own heartache, on the ways that our spouse fails to love us as we desire. We forget that one day we will stand before God who will want to talk to us about how we loved his son or daughter. Because when our spouse chose to marry us, our Father in Heaven also chose us. He chose us to be his missionary, his prophet, who would carry his message of unrelenting love and encouragement to his beloved child. He embraced us as the son or daughter-in-law who would work with him to bring out the very best in our spouse, helping him or her to grow in faith and holiness.
Reflecting on God as a Father-in-Law is a healthy reminder of what our wedding vows called us to be; unconditional lovers modelled in the image of God.