24 Questions for Advent: Twenty
The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail), Rembrandt van Rijn
Some of you are fathers, so ask yourselves this: if your son comes up to you and asks for a fish for dinner, will you give him a snake instead?
Luke 11:11, The Voice
It always amazes me when I hear people talk about God in a way that makes Him seem a worse parent then they would be. Jesus’ witness about His Father makes one thing clear: if you are getting from Scripture that God is not after the very best for His children, then you are reading it in error.
This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before. Karl Barth, The Humanity of God
Yet when I hear people talk about God in their lives, often I sense more fear than trust. Perhaps this is due to their relationship with their own fathers or to the poor theology of some preachers or Sunday School teachers who misinterpret what it means to “fear the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is about recognizing and respecting His power, not intentions to harm. This is communicated wonderfully in C.S. Lewis’ depiction of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"…
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
The goodness of God is what Lewis discovered when he first encountered the writings and sermons of George MacDonald, a 19th century Scottish preacher. MacDonald is my favorite author for the same reason. He held an unshakable faith in God that apparently stemmed from the goodness of his own father, and was based in the conviction that all that we can know of God must come from that foundation.
I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain. For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond. There is nothing in all the universe which does not in some way vibrate within the heart of God. No creature suffers alone; He suffers with His creatures and through it is in the process of bringing His sons and daughters through the cleansing and glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace. George MacDonald, The Marquis' Secret
In becoming a father myself, I knew that I could never promise that my sons would be protected from pain, sadness or suffering. Try as we may to protect our children, we all know that we can never assure them of that. I love the Pixar film Finding Nemo as a creative illustration of both the undying love of parenthood and the harsh reality of loss. This contrast of fear and faith is hilariously depicted in the opposing views on life by Nemo’s father Marlin and his new ditsy friend Dory:
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm...that’s a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well, you can’t “never let anything happen to him.” Then nothing would ever happen to him...not much fun for little Harpo.
Truth is, life is risky and hard. To avoid risk is not only impossible, but unthinkable. “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell,” says Lewis. This is why Jesus not only warns His followers of the danger coming to them, but promises it. The love of God comes not in the prevention of pain, but in the assurance of His presence in the midst of it. That’s why I believe the greatest promise of God in all of Scripture is from Matthew 28:20:
“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”