Kids and their dad
It is an indisputable fact that dads influence their kids — whether for good or bad. It occurs either through imitation or rebellion. That is, a child will pick up either how to act or how not to act based on the perception of his or her dad.
Jesus confirms that universal reality in his own family. The familia Dei is the prototypical family, after all.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise'” (John 5:19).
Only, unlike the youngster who spills his cereal while watching dad eat, Jesus’ imitation of God the Father is flawless, “[he is] the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).
There is then, a common set of family characteristics within the familia Dei embodied in the Son of God, stemming from God the Father.
Little brothers and big brothers
Typically, the older the sibling, the more similar he or she
is to mom and dad. And so the copycatting moves down the generations: younger brothers imitate bigger brothers.
In the familia Dei, all eyes are on Jesus, the Elder Brother (Hebrews 2:11), for learning the family ways because “no one has ever seen God…[but Jesus] has made him known” (John 1:18; cf. Col. 1:15).
If an elder brother is imitating his father perfectly, then the younger brother is, in effect, imitating his father. And so, the Apostle Paul says, “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).
You imitate a Person, not a list
Undoubtedly, such logic whets one’s thirst to simply imitate a list of the family characteristics of God. That would certainly make it easy. We could all imitate the list.
But imagine trying to create a list which comprehensively describes your family. You could tell someone that in your family interactions tend to be very sarcastic, indirect, but always friendly and caring. And that in your family, it is expected that the children carry their dishes to sink after dinner. And that hugs are common place.
Such a list may describe accurately certain characteristics of your family. But imagine someone who went solely off of that list and began interacting with your family. She could make plenty of sarcastic comments, carry her dishes to the sink, and give everyone a hug. But she would not really be reflecting your family.
Families are just more complicated than that.
The only way to really begin picking up on the subtleties of a family is to first be folded in despite the foreign-ness of your previously engrained ethos. The more time you spend in close proximity and the more regular the interactions, the more you begin to genuinely imitate the culture of the new family, largely unintentionally.
Learning the family ways
In the gospel, individuals are folded into the family of God despite his or her consistently alien behavior. Over time, an individual moves from beholding (or observing) the family dynamic to a full-fledged participation in it. All the while, “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have one origin [read: family]. That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11).