After I was born, there was some doubt that I was my mother’s child.
That’s weird, right? Paternity can sometimes be dubious, but maternity never is. And mine wouldn’t have been either, if it wasn’t for a nurse that confused my mom with another black woman in the hospital, who had also just given birth.
As I got older, my mom would tease me, gasping and wondering aloud if maybe I wasn’t her real daughter; if the hospital had mixed up the babies just like they mixed up the charts.
But it was only a joke, because it’s obvious I am her daughter and she is my mom. Not only do we look alike, we are alike. I am loud like her. I am confrontational like my father. I am shy like my brother.
But when it comes to my heavenly parentage, the doubt gets a lot louder.
Could someone recognize you or me as a child of God? Or were we switched at birth?
Somewhere deep inside you, there’s a heart
That question always stressed me out when I heard it at church. Can the people you meet tell that you are a Christian? Because the implication was always that yes, they should be able to tell. And if they couldn’t, you were a bad Christian.
But look at the people in the Bible! If we heard their stories without knowing where they came from, I’m willing to bet we wouldn’t connect them with God at all.
That feeling is strong in Judges 21, which is ironic, considering the fact that just one chapter before, the Israelites had had a moment with God. They were close right now! Something good would happen next, right?
Try something bizarre. After killing a large number of Benjamites for heinous crimes they had committed against a young woman, the Israelites start to feel sad.
They had wanted to punish the tribe of Benjamin, not wipe them out completely. There were twelve tribes of Israel. How awful would it be to suddenly be eleven, not because of oppressors, but because of civil war? They had to fix this.
The Israelite Reconstruction plan they came up with was simple: give the surviving men of Benjamin wives so that they can procreate.
How they did it was not simple: during the next religious celebration, while the women are dancing, give the Benjamites permission to run up and snatch the girls they want to marry. Then apologize to the girls’ fathers and brothers later.
Before we can get too panicky wondering why God sanctioned something so problematic and creepy, the chapter ends with a quick reminder that during this time, everyone was doing whatever they wanted, not necessarily what God wanted (verse 25).
In other words, the Israelites were not looking very much like their heavenly Father at all.
Or were they?
While the method was weird and uncomfortable (even more so to us in the 21st century), the heart behind it was strangely tender.
It always confused me how mournful the Israelites were after defeating the Benjamites. I feel like I would have been gleeful, brushing off any worries about their future. Let them die out! Who cares? They deserve it.
But the Israelites in that moment had something that I often lack – mercy. Punishment had been given. Justice had been served. Now the past could be forgotten, and in rushed mercy.
Take a screenshot, because right there is where the Israelites look exactly like their Father. When we sin, He punishes us. He allows the consequences of our sin to hurt us. But He doesn’t leave us for dead, unconcerned for our future, uninterested in what happens next.
He continues to love us. He offers us forgiveness. His plan for us persists, His hopes and dreams for what we could be still flourish.
He gives us mercy.
What a trait to be passed down through generations!
“Don’t forget that I made you in My image and in My likeness.”
Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s a little bit pointless to worry about whether or not the people who are around you can tell if you’re a Christian or not. Will they ever let you know? Do they even think about you enough to care? It’s impossible to pass that test.
Instead, let’s look inward. At ourselves. At our own hearts. God has passed down so many good things to us. Are we cultivating them? Are we imitating our Father?
Have we learned to love others like He does?
Have we learned to be joyful like He has shown us?
Are we creative like He is?
Do we love to worship like He does?
Did we learn to pray like He taught us?
Have we decided to forgive people like He does?
We can. We can be and do all the things He has taught us, because it doesn’t matter who or what we were born to – being God’s child isn’t a matter of birth, it’s a matter of choice.
He’s already chosen us. He already wants us. He’s already standing before us, arms full with good gifts to pass on to us.
The only question is ours to answer.
So who’s your Father?
What do you think? What character traits of God are in you?