In The Beginning: God As A New Parent

Little S. was born six months ago this week. Among all the amazing new-baby-love happening here, I often feel a deep, psychedelic sadness.

It's the last thing I expected to feel.

But beginnings and endings are intimately related. I look at this tiny being and I know that in bringing this baby onto the earth, I have also created a human being who will leave the earth one day. And I understand that I will leave as well.

Heavy, I know. And yes, this thought co-exists with tiny socks and heart-melting smiles. But still, it's a thought that often occurs to me. This baby is changing the way I see life itself.

So it's no surprise that it makes me read the creation story sort of ... upside down.


I never really liked thinking of God as a father. It always seemed overly simple, or wishful, or childlike to think of the divine as a big spiritual Daddy.

But this year, reading about the creation of Adam and Eve, I was surprised to find myself thinking of God as a parent after all -- but with a twist. Instead of identifying with the child, I find myself identifying with this new-parent-God.

If we're made in God's image, could it be possible that our Maker also experienced new parenthood as a crazy challenge, making God vulnerable -- metaphorically sleep-deprived -- and deeply in love with those helpless naked creatures.


I realize this is the ultimate act of self-projection and maybe a little heretical. But it also seems logical. (Also, I'm just talking about a way of imagining one aspect of God, not a comprehensive definition or anything.)

After all, if we're going to compare God to a parent over and over in our liturgy, why couldn't learning how to be a parent teach us something about the nature of God?


I probably should have figured this out long ago, but I'm just now experiencing the sadly delayed realization that my own (awesome) parents did not actually have all the answers throughout my childhood. Just as I sort of have no idea what I'm doing, my parents were also winging it. (And yet I still call my mom for advice and expect her to know the answer.)

And to continue my possibly heretical exploration of God as a parent, could it be possible that God, after creating Adam, also realized the limits of Divine knowledge, and had to start winging it?


A strange thing happens right before man is created, in Genesis 1:26. God says, "Let us create man in our image, after our likeness."

This plural raises some obvious questions for a religion which is supposed to be monotheistic. Who is God consulting?

Since we're talking about Judaism, of course there are a ton of possible answers. My favorite is that God says "Let us create man" to the angels, some of whom like the idea, and some of whom don't.

Rabbi Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create man, the angels were divided into camps and factions. Some said, "Let Him create man," and some said, "Let Him not create man." ... Kindness said: "Let God create man, for he will perform acts of kindness." Truth said, "Let Him not create man, for he will be full of lies." Justice said, "Let Him create man, for he will perform justice." Peace said, "Let Him not create man, for he will be full of divisiveness."

Before I thought this was about the complicated nature of humans. But today I am reading it as a story about the complicated project of MAKING humans. In other words, parenthood.

Before creating humans, God is surrounded by angels, pure ideas: Kindness, Truth, Justice and Peace. But humans are mixtures. We cannot be reduced to a single definition, we're too complicated.

And our complexity changes the world around us; Adam and Eve changed God's world, just as my baby changes my world.

Reading this midrash through the eyes of a new parent I wonder if that's what the angels meant when they warned God about creating man. Not just that humans would be complicated, but that creating them would be complicated for God.


So, maybe the God we read about this week loves us and is terrified for us. Created us but can't control us.

Maybe this God watches our every move like we watch our babies, wishing it were possible to protect us from pain, knowing we have to make our own mistakes.

Maybe that's the reason God puts a tree right in the middle of their garden and tells Eve not to eat from it. Maybe that's why there are consequences when they do eat from it.

Maybe that's why there is so much sadness among the joy. Creation is a beginning, but also an ending.

To quote T.S. Eliot: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."