Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra explains that God uses the parent-child relationship to engender within us the same feelings of love and adoration that a child experiences from its parents. Yet the Torah also compares us to servants of God which is clearly a very different type of relationship (Leviticus 25:55).
If a servant commits an offence against his master but later repents, the master could choose to treat the servant with compassion and judge him mercifully, or he could apply the strict letter of the law and punish him accordingly. But a wayward child knows that while its parents bear the responsibility of discipline, the deep love between them means that provided the child shows genuine remorse, judgment can be meted out with mercy to allow the child space for growth and development.
Ellul is characterised as a time for preparation and reflection as the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) draw near. One of the Rosh Hashanah prayers highlights these two types of relationship. Kol yetzurei olamim, im kavanim im ka’avadim, “All creations of the world stand in judgment, whether they are like children or like servants”. How are we to know whether we are like children or like servants?
There are two ways to serve God; we can either perform His commandments like a child who shows love towards its parents through its inherent desire to obey, or like a servant who obeys because he has to. The way we relate to God consequentially affects the way He judges us. The choice is ours: if we act like a servant, he will judge us as our master, but if we act like a loving child, He will judge us with mercy like a loving parent.