Here’s an old, old riddle that’s been argued for centuries and is still fun to try to figure out: Brothers and sisters have I none, but that man’s father is my father’s son. Who is that man?
It’s a logical puzzle based on the intricacies of human relationships. (I won’t tell you the answer, but I can tell you that the answer isn’t what you’d first suppose!)
Here’s a much easier riddle about relationships: If two people have the same father, what does that make them to one another?
You don’t have to think about that very long. People having the same father are brothers and sisters.
God is everyone’s Father
The Bible repeatedly describes God as our Father. Jesus called Him, “ ‘ “Our Father in heaven” ’ ” (Matthew 6:9). Each of us has a human father, of course. But God, as the Creator and Sustainer of all humankind, is our “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).
So if every person on earth, with our infinite range of skin tones and features, variously garbed, speaking thousands of different languages, has God as a Father, then what does that make us to one another?
Brothers and sisters, of course.
A dark-skinned man in Africa wearing a dashiki is my brother. A kimono-clad Japanese woman on thick wooden geta sandals is my sister. An Inuit living in a house of snow in northern Canada is part of the family too.
I’ve got about 6 billion siblings! And though we don’t all know one another, our heavenly Father knows each one of us by name.
A troubled family
However, we only need to watch the evening news to know that we haven’t acted very brotherly and sisterly toward one another. Look at the wars raging across the earth, often fought under the banner of God or a variously named god. Note how abusive some of us are to others, how selfish and unkind.
If we are a family, we are a highly dysfunctional one!
Nonetheless, according to Scripture, we all descended from the same man and woman, who were themselves sculpted and given life by God Himself. “ ‘From one man,’ ” Paul said, “ ‘he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth’ ” (Acts 17:26). Like it or not, we’re family.
Not long ago, two young families with small children were in their airplane seats in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, waiting for the other passengers to board. The two men, who were brothers, were discussing an article they’d read about what the safest seat would be on the airplane in case of an accident. One observed to the other, “It looks like on this flight we’re sitting right next to the engines.”
A few minutes later, an FBI agent boarded the plane and removed one of the brothers and his wife, and later the rest of the family members were taken off. Eventually, all passengers were ordered off the plane. In the course of the interrogation, the family learned why they were the cause of the delayed flight. All of them had golden-brown skin; the men wore large, black beards, and the women’s hair was covered with scarves. A suspicious passenger, hearing them mention the airplane’s engines, had slipped a note to the flight attendant saying that they might be terrorists!
When they learned who they’d taken off the plane, the authorities were embarrassed. One brother was a respected physician, the other an attorney. Though they were Muslim, they’d been born and raised in the United States and spoke unaccented English. Their trip had been interrupted, not because of who they were, but because of what someone else assumed they were.
Differences like race, religion, and ethnicity often interfere with human brotherhood. We draw hasty conclusions about others based on how they look, the language they speak, or their cultural backgrounds.
Fortunately, the Fatherhood of God doesn’t depend on whether or not we like each other. “O Lord, you are our Father,” writes Isaiah. “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). That we are shaped and colored differently from one another is a mark of the Master Potter’s artistry.
Jesus didn’t expect that His Father’s children on this earth would suddenly begin to live as a happy family because of His loving ministry. He predicted that until He returned to earth, some members of the family would be continuously engaged in “ ‘wars, and rumors of wars’ ” (Matthew 24:6).
But He did leave us a way to experience just a taste of what God originally had in mind for us before sin entered the world. Ever since Jesus was here, those of us who acknowledge that God is our Father gather to practice being kind and loving brothers and sisters.
The church family
Our family gathering is called “the church,” and it’s made up of all those who love Jesus. Where even two or three of His siblings gather, Jesus promises to meet with them (see Matthew 18:20). Jesus pictured the church as a retreat from the competition, stress, and violence of the world, a place where we treat one another with the kind of unselfish love that characterized His life. Jesus regarded this as so important that He added a new commandment to the ten already in Scripture: “ ‘A new command I give you,’ ” He said. “ ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ ” (John 13:34). Jesus Himself convenes this gathering, for just as God is our Father, so God’s Son Jesus is our Elder Brother (Hebrews 2:11).
In the ideal church, we treat one another with respect, no matter our station in life. Because we are all equal in God’s sight, ethnic, racial, and even gender differences fade. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). A church, like a human body, has many parts, but these parts needn’t be jealous of one another, because each has its own function (1 Corinthians 12:20–22).
Every week, on the seventh-day Sabbath, the congregation of which I am a part gathers to worship. We enjoy Bible study and sacred music; but to me the most important thing that happens in our church takes place among the clusters of people gathered in the entryway and the halls, praying for one another and exchanging words of encouragement and comfort. Handshakes and hugs, deep friendships, sharing together happy events such as a wedding or new baby, and sad ones like funerals—a church, at its best, is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
Perhaps you’ve been to a church that didn’t impress you with its kindness, and I’m sorry if that’s been your experience. It shouldn’t surprise us, though, for even the best Christians are human. Even back in the early Christian church, there were arguments about power, social class, ethnicity, and points of doctrine.
Being a church isn’t just about doctrines, though. Our understanding of the infinite God (which is what doctrine is about) will never be complete (1 Corinthians 13:9); but good, kind relationships, where we speak God’s truths in loving ways and demonstrate them in our lives (Ephesians 4:15), identify us as a church. “ ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples,’ ” said Jesus, “ ‘if you love one another’ ” (John 13:35).
The key to being a happy Christian is to meet with God’s family. For the closer you draw to His children, the closer you’ll draw to your Father God!