“Didn’t you ever want a father yourself?” Meg demanded. “You don’t want him for a reason. You want him because he’s your father.” ~Madeliene L’Engle
One of the greatest parts of parenting is sharing some of my passions with my kids. Specifically, I love to read and reading with them has become one of the best parts of our days together. From Harry Potter to the Hobbit we have explored worlds together that are far beyond our geographic boundaries and experience. As we have read, I have noted a single commonality, a uniquely singular theme that is drawn through stories that originated in a diversity of times and locations….fathering. Simply put, story after story builds upon either the conspicuous absence or the benevolent presence of a father.
Lewis’ 4 Kings and Queens of Narnia were escapees of London, temporarily orphaned children fleeing the Nazi blitz. Harry Potter lost his father when just a year old impassioning him with a desire to see his parent’s legacy completed. Frodo sets off for Mount Doom only after Bilbo, himself a stand-in for Frodo’s absent father, engenders him with a mysterious ring. Mary, Laura, Carrie and baby Grace travel widely across the American West following a truly wonderful, if somewhat wander-lusted father. And in the quote above, Meg, Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderfully authentic, adolescent daughter states the driving forces within her that has compelled her to travel across the universe (by a wrinkle in time no less) combating demonic forces. In short, her father has gone missing.
I will not take the time, as it would be entirely wasted, to recount the story lines of these worthy characters as the writing is as much a part of the journey as the plot. But Meg’s argument, one I discovered while reading to my 3rd grader, feels like a summary of any number of story lines. Facing a demonically empowered despot on a foreign planet (for those of you who are not in love with sci-fi, L’Engle is really very far from the genre.), Meg is hopelessly outclassed in her dispute. Yet her words, riven with a simplicity that most of us wish to conceal within ourselves, strike at the heart of all of us. Haven’t we had fathers? And why do we want them or work endlessly to think that we don’t want them? Why are they such immense people in our lives?
Metaphors permeate the Scriptures. If the books listed above are metaphorically connected than metaphors are the interlinking chains that together create, for us, the story of God. God is alternately the spurned lover, the deposed king, the good shepherd, the vineyard owner, the judge, the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the still-small voice, Leviathan’s tamer, wisdom incarnate, and many others. But rarely if ever does anyone dare to refer to God as Jesus does.
His words, quiet and un-dramatic, call us to an unexpected quality in this God. This is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name… Different than every metaphor that has gone before, Jesus reveals this God as close and present. He reveals him as the Father.
Theologians speak of the God who condescends. And of course this means more in a conversation about God than it would in a conversation among friends. It’s not as though God looks down on others unnecessarily patronizing and self-promoting. Rather He looks down out of necessity. He is above. He is beyond. He is other, separate, unique, and a host of other words that draw a chasm between him and humanity. Jesus’ words add another dimension to all the others… He is also available.
Jesus remarkably became human and dwelt among us as John writes. God as a father is revealed as a God capable of incarnation, a God who can come close even though naturally He is vastly distant. God has stopped, bent his knee, and like so many human fathers waited for his children to catch him. For where would we be if we had not fathers that, strong and capable, interrupted their forward movement to wait for us transforming us with their inefficient compassion. William Paul Young once wrote of the wastefulness of God’s grace, a truly beautiful phrase. The condescension of the world’s most capable character involves him stopping and blessing us with his presence when we are so far behind. His ways above ours and his thoughts beyond ours, yet his Life amidst ours as well.
Transformed children are transformed parents. Just witness Harry Potter’s final scene with Harry, Hermione and Ron all together as gracious parents…the ending we all wish for. Or think of Diggory Kirke, Lewis’ quite horrible character in the Magician’s Nephew who becomes the remarkable and fatherly professor in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Thankfully L’Engle’s Meg finds her father as must we all. And thankfully God has chosen to be findable. St Paul closes the first half of his immeasurably grace-filled letter to the Ephesians with these words… I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. The image of such a fearsome character of Paul, the continent traversing Apostle whose inspired words transformed church after church, kneeling in the presence of his father is one worthy of long meditation. Paul, himself a father-figure to thousands, found himself as a kneeling child in the presence of the One who is Father to us all.
In the shadow of the one, great Father we find ourselves. Haunting us all, from Inklings to Rowlings, is a shadowy search for that parent large enough to protect and yet compassionate enough to wait. The One who condescends without ever seeming condescending.