Christianity refers to God as our loving heavenly Father. Jesus is his son. The church is often called the bride of Christ.

The recurrent theme in these descriptions isĀ family. It’s been my experience that where families are close-knit, children are more inclined to follow their parents’ religion. Where there is division, the kids go their own way.

I have a theory that within Christianity, and other religions where our relationship with the divine is framed as familial, believers mainly learn what God’s love is like through these family relationships. A lot of Christians say that family and marriage are meant to be a “type” (i.e. a representation or symbol) of divine love. Because ideally in these kinds of relationships there is a lot of love, and different types of love, being exchanged between people.

So when a child is told that God is their heavenly Father, they look to the love they received from their worldly father (and mother). Or when we speak of when we talk about the deeply personal (a lot of people like to say “intimate”) knowledge God has of each of us, people naturally draw on the experiences and emotions they get from their dating or marriage experiences. Being in relationship with God can feel abstract since we don’t normally hear, see, or feel God physically. Instead we’re told that our family and romantic relationships are like what we have with God, but God’s is even greater than that.

This can make divine love hard to understand when you don’t get these “normal” relationships. I’m not really close with my family, and I haven’t dated in a long time. I, and many others, just don’t have a well-defined sense of what love feels like, because we haven’t gotten much of it.