Adoption: God as the Empathetic Parent

We are excited about the theme for the 2012 Rooted Conference – “Adoption: The Beauty of Grace” – which will explore how the theological concept of adoption speaks to the present youth generation.

A while back, my wife and I attended a parenting conference hosted by the La Leche League of Georgia.  As expected, I found the teaching and discussions to be rather thought-provoking and practical as a parent.  I did not, however, expect to find my faith built up and encouraged the way it was over the course of the two days.

All throughout the lectures and seminars, I kept seeing parallels between what was being taught about parenting and scripture’s teaching about God as our adoptive Father.  One quote in particular from the keynote touched my heart with its beauty.

In one of her handouts, Sharifa Oppenheimer (author of the best-selling book Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children) wrote the following:

“The single best gift a parent can give their children is to be attuned to them, to know what it feels like inside their skin, and to respond interactively from this ‘knowing.’  The only way a child can learn to know who they are is by having been ‘known’ in this way by a parent.  The only way a child can ‘see themselves’ is by looking into the mirror of the parents’ heart, and see themselves reflected back.”

This is a beautiful picture of a parent’s empathy for their child – but what struck me as truly awe-inspiring was when I saw the quote from the perspective of my adoption into the household of God (Ephesians 2:19) and the incarnation of God in Jesus.

What a gift that our God went to such great lengths to ‘feel inside our skin’!  As the author of Hebrews proclaims, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

God became fully human only to be fully rejected by humanity, so that he might identify with us in our struggles, offer himself as a sacrifice to redeem humanity and give us the high privilege of becoming children of God.  Such a notion is too great to comprehend!

What’s more is that because God so identified with us in Jesus – counting his righteousness as our own –  we no longer know ourselves by looking in the bathroom mirror; rather, it is only by gazing into Christ, where we most fully see the Father’s heart, that we can rightly see our true selves reflected back.  Redeemed. Holy. Pure. Made new. Perfect. Loved.

In a ministry environment where many youth harbor harmful self-identities shaped by a culture saturated with false perceptions of the ‘self’, there are few messages more timely than our adoption by the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

As we minister to today’s youth in whatever format, our call, as Paul magnificently declares in Colossians 3:2-4, is to encourage them to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

For in Christ, we have become God’s beloved children…and he knows and cares what we are going through.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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