Apostle Matthew narrates this teaching of Christ: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37).
In light of this verse, it is temptingly easy to respond to accusations of being negligent or even cruel towards one’s children, parents or kin by saying, “But I love God!” But is it possible to be indifferent towards one’s family and love God?
To the people of the Old Testament time, honouring the parents was an unquestioned duty. Of the ten commandments, only this one promised earthly benefits for compliance (“so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land”). As we know from human history, many tribes were far more ‘practical’ in treating their elderly parents: they euthanised them when they grew old. Even in modern times, respect for the parents is far less common than desired. But let us not blame the Godlessness of the past decades: mistreatment of the parents has a much longer history. Christ laments about it as he condemns the scribes and Pharisees: (who happened to be very pious): ...”But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God, they are not to ‘honour their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Mt 15:5-6). What better example of a distortion of the faith for the sake of the form? Jesus calls it the Yeast of the Pharisees, something that we should avoid at all costs.
Likewise in the Scripture, love for one’s children is also a foundation of being and the order of life. How could it be different if God is the Father of all people? “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11-13). In this, and many other verses of the bible parental love is proclaimed as the norm, and even when it is shaken, the love of God always stands firm. Not coincidentally, the Father in the parable of the Lost Son accepts his son joyfully and without rebuking him (Luke 15: 11-24), and the parable itself likens the father to God and the son to a repentant sinner.
Similarly, in the Old Testament the Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15). Likewise, as we read in the Psalms, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (Psalm 26:10).
This brings us to the following verse that makes us appreciate the greatness of His love for His creation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). So coming back to the verse from which we began, we must love our family and children in ways that go beyond the natural course of things. Moreover, the Christian faith affirms the greatness of love for one’s family, the natural setting to learn love, and only once we have learned to love our family can we direct our love toward God.
We may recall the biblical narrative about Abraham’s sacrifice at the beginning of the faith of the revelation. Abraham was the father of all faithful — those who have faith are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). As we read in the book of Genesis (22: 2 – 12), to test Abraham, God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved. Abraham obeyed but was stopped by the angel as he was about to slay him. God needed no human sacrifice, but sacrificial love. Today, we can also find examples of such sacrificial love as was described in the biblical story. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh remembers that before his monastic tonsure, his confessor, Archimandrite Athanasius (Nechaev), asked him to break ties with his relatives and promise not to see them again. Anthony asked for some time to think. He was thinking about it together with his family, who loved him and whom he loved dearly. They decided together, freely and voluntarily to part with each other on this earth for sake of the love of God. Father Athanasius tonsured Anthony and instructed the young man – by obedience – to live with his family.
God’s love exceeds human love without overriding it.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds