Have you ever thought about how important pictures are when it comes to understanding our Catholic faith? Of course, we all know that we need to understand the truths and doctrines of the Church. But without images, metaphors, and illustrations, these truths can feel cold and distant.
Think, for instance, of how helpful it is to imagine the Holy Spirit as a dove or a flame of fire or a powerful rushing wind. Or think of how Jesus used pictures from everyday life—from farming, fishing, marriage, and family—to teach us about the new life he had come to give us. Even the phrase “the kingdom of God” is an image that teaches us about the peace, protection, and sense of community that God wants to give those who follow him.
When it comes to God’s covenant love for us, Scripture paints two very vivid images: the image of marriage and the image of family. So let’s explore these images to see what they have to teach us.
The Image of Family. In the first account of creation, we can see how deeply the notion of family is embedded on God’s heart. In fact, the first command God gave to the man and woman is to “be fertile and multiply,” meaning, of course, to have a family (Genesis 1:28). Then as the story unfolds, we learn not only about the first couple but about their children and grandchildren as well. These stories then set the groundwork for what is to come.
When God called Abraham to be the “father of a host of nations,” he had a bigger agenda in mind than simply blessing a single patriarch (Genesis 17:5). Through his work with Abraham and his descendants, God showed how he wants to treat all his people as his own children. He showed that he wants us to be “his people” in a way that goes beyond simply obeying his laws. He wants us to become his children so that we reflect his image, his “family philosophy,” to the whole world.
While this image of the family of God runs throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, it becomes much more clear with the coming of Christ. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks again and again about God as his heavenly Father—and our heavenly Father as well. He teaches us to call God “Father” in prayer and urges us to forgive each other as our Father forgives us (Matthew 6:6, 15). He promises that our Father wants to give us good gifts (7:11). He even tells Mary Magdalene, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
A Father’s Treasures. The image of God as a Father who loves us and wants only good things for us can help us understand the covenant God has made with us. It shows us that God treasures us in much the same way that any good parent treasures his or her children. It tells us, too, that our Father has bound himself to us by a covenant as intimate and eternal as the bond between parents and children.
The truth is, God treasures every person, even those who don’t believe in him or don’t practice their faith. They are all members of his family. Jesus taught this in his parable of the prodigal son. The young man in this parable may have felt unworthy to rejoin his family, but that’s not how his father felt. As soon as his son returned home, he welcomed him back into the family with open arms. He even threw a big celebration for him. It was as if his son had never left!
Knowing that our Father has covenanted himself to us and calls us his children can be very comforting. How much more comforting it is to know that those who stray will always be welcomed back! We should never lose hope. We should never give up praying for those friends or family members who may have lost their way. Their heavenly Father hasn’t given up hope—and neither should we.
The Image of Marriage. The Book of Genesis tells us that God gave the first man a companion, a woman, to partner with him in the task of tending the garden. As a sign of God’s purpose for marriage, Genesis tells us that these two became “one body” (Genesis 2:24)—an image that reveals the heart of the marriage covenant between a husband and wife. When two people stand before a priest and proclaim their vows to each other, they initiate a whole new way of life. They are promising to live in unity. They are promising to love, serve, console, and care for each other for the rest of their lives.
But the wedding day, as beautiful as it can be, is only the beginning. The vows that this couple exchange must now be lived out day after day. St. Paul addressed this challenge when he told husbands and wives to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Each spouse, he wrote, must have unconditional love for the other. Each must help the other become holy and spotless. Each must serve the other and strive to uphold each other, “because we are members of his body” (5:30).
Let’s face it, must-do statements like these can be hard to follow at times. We all try our best, but we fail. As much as we want unity, we sometimes get into fights. As much as we want to do the right thing, there are times when we give into temptation. And when that happens, we end up disrupting the order in our homes.
Still, Paul took this image of marriage—no matter how imperfectly it may be lived out—and applied it to Jesus and his commitment to his Church. Most likely he made this comparison to highlight one significant difference: Jesus is the perfect spouse. He will never stop loving us. He will never stop serving us and striving to help us grow in holiness. Jesus will never break his covenant with us!
If we look at Paul’s must-do list and apply it to Jesus, the results are remarkable. As the husband and head of the Church, Jesus gave his life so that we might become a pure and holy bride. Through his cross, he put to death the sin that separated us from him. Through his blood—the blood of the new and everlasting covenant—he washed us clean and gave us a new beginning. And through his resurrection and the gift of his Spirit, he has given us everything we need to be holy.
This image of marriage demonstrates how deeply Jesus loves his Church—each of us individually and all of us as a whole. Despite all our weaknesses and failures, Jesus loves us with perfect and sincere and boundless love. The more we understand the depth of this love, the more we will understand the depth of God’s covenant with us.
Caught Up in God’s Love. Marriage and family: these are the two most important relationships anyone can have. It’s no accident that God uses these two relationships to help us understand his covenant love for us. They both involve a level of intimacy, commitment, and permanence that can speak volumes to us about the way God wants to relate to us. He doesn’t want us to think of his covenant as some sort of legal contract drawn up to protect the interests of each party involved. He doesn’t want us to examine his covenant with a magnifying glass, trying to find loopholes or escape clauses. At the heart of his covenant is love, not obligation; compassion, not compulsion.
God wants us to see his covenant for what it truly is: an everlasting commitment from a Father who loves his children deeply and wants only the best for them. It is the commitment of a husband who will go to great lengths to provide for his bride and protect her from all danger.
These images of marriage and family show us that God is not a nameless, faceless “supreme being.” He is a Trinity of Persons. His entire life is one of communion, a fellowship of love between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. What’s more, this life of communion extends beyond himself to encompass each and every person on the face of the Earth. That’s why he has made a covenant with us.
You Belong to God! Like every good human father, our heavenly Father wants us to enjoy life in his family. So let’s take the time to thank him and praise him for establishing a living, eternal covenant with us. Let’s tell him that we want to live as his beloved children. Let’s tell him that we want to make the Church into his beautiful, spotless bride. And above all, let’s remember everything that God has given to us in his covenant. He has bound himself to us. We belong to him, and we are his treasure!