God is good. God alone is good. God only has good things in mind for me. Jesus wants me to know this and get it in my soul. This is core to the Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 7 – 9).
Is it possible that I think God has it out for me? Do I act that way some days? Do see God as harsh?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” | Matthew 7:7-11
Jesus has a point to make. Jesus is clear. Jesus envisages a situation with which all his hearers will have been daily familiar, namely a child coming to his father with a request. Children are not hesitant to ask and ask and ask.
If my son asks for bread, will I give him something which looks a bit like it but is in fact disastrously different, e.g. a stone instead of a loaf, or a snake instead of a fish?
If my son asks for something wholesome to eat (bread or fish), will he receive instead something unwholesome, either inedible (a stone) or positively harmful (a poisonous snake)? Of course not!
Parents, even though we are evil, i.e. selfish by nature, still love our children and give them only good gifts. Notice that Jesus here assumes, even asserts, the inherent sinfulness of human nature.
At the same time, Jesus does not deny that bad men are capable of doing good. On the contrary, evil parents give good gifts to their children, for ‘God drops into their hearts a portion of his goodness’.
What Jesus is saying is that even when I am doing good, following the noble instincts of parenthood and caring for my children, even then I do not escape the designation ‘evil’, for that is what human beings are.
So the force of the parable lies rather in a contrast than in a comparison between God and men. It is another a fortiori or ‘how much more’ argument: if human parents (although evil) know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our heavenly Father (who is not evil but wholly good) give good things to those who ask him? (11). ‘For what would he not now give to sons when they ask, when he has already granted this very thing, namely, that they might be sons?’
There is no doubt that our prayers are transformed when we remember that the God we are coming to is ‘Abba, Father’, and infinitely good and kind.