Why would a parent do more for some of his children than for others? Why does our Father in heaven seem to repeat the mistake of a well-known biblical patriarch? Jacob provoked family rivalry among his 12 sons by spoiling young Joseph in the presence of older brothers (Genesis 37:3).
So often our Father seems to do more for new believers than for those of us who have been around for a while. Recent converts often tell stories of dramatic answers to prayer, even as those of us who have been in the Family for a long time struggle under the weight of problems our Father could have lifted from our backs long ago.
Why does a Father of unlimited resources seem tight-fisted with some of His children while being so open-handed with others? And why does a Father who is everywhere at all times seem to withdraw from some while walking so closely with others? Is God like a parent who creates havoc in the family by playing favorites?
I’m convinced that answers to these questions can be found in a case study of the children of Israel. In the developmental phases of their national life, our Parent God showed that He relates differently to newborns than to adolescent and adult children.
An infant needs direct help to survive
When the Father of Israel delivered His newborn nation from the bricks and whips of Egypt, He did so with great style. With the fireworks of a great storm exploding in the Egyptian sky, and with the persuasion of mounting plagues, God tightened His grip on the throat of the Pharaoh until the self-proclaimed sovereign of Egypt choked and slumped, gasping in grief and angry defeat.
Just as God gave the infant children of Israel this impressive display of His power, He often welcomes newborn believers into His family with a clear and present sense of deliverance from their sin. He may give them real and vivid experiences to show He is a God who is everything His children need Him to be.
New believers at this stage often give encouragement to the whole family of God as they describe with fresh awareness and enthusiasm what God has done for them. In telling of their experiences, however, they are not yet aware that ahead of them are mountains to scale, swamps to wade, and seasons to endure.
A young child needs to learn boundaries
As the children of Israel walked out of Egypt they breathed free air for the first time in centuries. There were no whips cracking at their backs. No fences to confine them. No crops to plant. Their food was delivered daily. Water gushed out of rocks. The sky was big over their heads. The ground was wide under their feet. The possibilities of the future seemed unlimited.
Then came a change. At the foot of Mount Sinai, God gave His children rules. In time someone would count these rules. 613 in all. 365 negative commands like “don’t ignore the plight of an overloaded animal.” 248 positive commands like “return lost property to its owner.”
The school of Sinai represents the line upon line of education that is needed by all children. The God who miraculously rescued His children from bondage later teaches us the principles of freedom. With the benefits of relationship come the boundaries of family rules.
At first the rules seem overwhelming. Do this. Don’t do that. No. You’re going to get hurt. Ouch! That’s why Mom and Dad warned you! Slowly the period of God’s supernatural intervention is eclipsed by a new period of learning. As God provides for us, He wants us to learn that trust is not just a passive experience. Trusting Him on His terms means being willing to do what He tells us to do. The struggle begins.
An adolescent needs to learn self-control
Forty years later, the children of Israel stood at the threshold of the Promised Land. After years of preparation in the presence of God, they were ready to move into their own homes. As they stepped into that new land, the miracle of food from heaven stopped. Instead of living under the obvious evidence of God’s protective shadow, they would have to plant their own crops, cultivate the soil, pull weeds, and prayerfully wait upon God for the early and latter rains. God was teaching them a new form of trust. Now His miracles, though just as real, and while just as many, would be hidden behind the curtain of unpredictable weather and natural problems.
Gradually and lovingly our supernatural God teaches us the disciplines of trust in ways that give us a chance to live by faith rather than by sight.
An adult child needs to learn the independent side of dependence
In the centuries that followed, God remained present with His people. On occasion He would give them dramatic miracles of provision. As a rule, however, the wonder of His presence and provisions were clothed in the natural cause-and-effect relationships of life. He still provided daily for His people, but He did so in increasingly subtle ways.
Sometimes we become confused by the apparent absence of God in our lives. But honest reflection will show us that God is absent only in the sense that He is not giving us everything we want, when we want it. He still provides for us constantly or we would not survive the need for another breath. But like a seasoned coach, a loving parent, and a wise teacher, He has gradually given us the impression that we are on our own. Does He do this so we will have to provide for ourselves? No. He does it so our trust in Him will grow, not diminish.
Lord, forgive us for demanding the ways and days of our childhood. Forgive us for wondering if You care for us less now than when You were holding our hand more tightly and obviously than You are today. Thank You for being with us in the dark of night, even when we seem so alone. Thank You for being so patient with us, and for leading us in a way that gives us an opportunity to trust You more rather than less. —Mart De Haan