I cannot think of a single scenario in which it would be wise for me to introduce my wife to anyone as my sister. I can see myself in the marital doghouse.
That being said, consider the fact that Abraham and his son Isaac—those giants of the Judeo-Christian tradition—both attempted to pass off their wives as their sisters on separate occasions (Gen. 12, 20, 26), in order to protect themselves from harm. What were they thinking?
Two out of the three such deceptions propagated by these patriarchs in the book of Genesis feature father and son—again, separately, and many years apart—pulling the wool over the eyes of a Philistine king named Abimelech. Whether both men tried to trick the same decidedly thickheaded king or two separate rulers named Abimelech is unclear. Either way, the maxim, “Like father, like son,” seems apropos.
When I read of Isaac following in his father’s footsteps, I think of how children mirror their parents, through both heredity and observation. My own father is a Baptist minister, and here I sit, exploring theological things in essay form—would I write about these things if not for him? Would I be a stay-at-home dad if my own mother hadn’t stayed home with me?
We human beings mirror our heavenly Father, too. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (NIV). Every person is a “little mirror” then, reflecting something of the likeness of God, even if that likeness has been distorted by sin, subjecting the image of God to something like the warping effects of a funhouse mirror.
In Abraham and Isaac, I see how these distortions of God’s image have the potential to pass from parent to child in a transmission I’m inclined to describe as spiritual heredity. While Abraham appears to trust God to sustain him, his deception indicates otherwise. God has a plan for me, he seems to think, but I’d better protect myself by lying in case He’s asleep on the job.
Isaac’s faith falters precisely where his father’s does—both men buckle in exactly the same way. Which prompts me to wonder: Did Isaac act with knowledge of his father’s dishonesty, or was he predisposed by some hereditary factor to do as his father did?
As I write these things, I wonder how my 3-year-old daughter will resemble my wife and me. Already I see early reflections of myself in her—good and bad. In her primitive toddler art, I see my creativity. In her tantrums, her temper flares hot and fast like mine; I fear we have the same gunpowder in our guts.
Since I’m the parent who stays home, when my fuse is short, Evie often bears the brunt of my bluster. When I react with disproportional anger to a mess she’s made—a recent hot cocoa catastrophe comes to mind—I can only apologize in the aftermath. In moments like this, I see God in her most clearly.
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” she says without hesitation. “I still love you and I forgive you.”
She actually says things like this, and it destroys me because I don’t deserve such grace. I’m 36. I have no excuse for behaving as badly as I do. But she absolves me anyway like some pre-school priest. So even though she acts as my little mirror, reflecting my anger, she also mimics the merciful motions of her heavenly Father, too. I hope and pray that she sees God in me, even though His image in me has been defaced—subjected to spiritual vandalism.
When I think about my own spiritual heredity, I know I owe my father a great deal. As a minister, Dad points people to the holiest reflector humanity has ever known—the one who is, to use the popular parlance—the spitting image of God. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” Jesus says in John 14:9. When I look in the mirror, I see shades of Abraham and Isaac in me. When I look at Jesus, however, I see what God looks like—and what He wants me to look like, too.