How Much More
There was an unpleasant episode in our house this week. It was a predictable enough story: kids getting used to the back to school routine and coping with new demands, new classmates, new courses, etc. after a long, lazy, largely obligation-free summer, parents attempting to manage the suddenly frantic pace of life with school and sports and the demands of work and church, and unexpected expenses popping up everywhere… In short, life… And into this maelstrom of exhaustion and frenetic activity and inattentiveness/insensitivity to the needs of one another, it doesn’t take much of a spark to light a big, ugly fire, replete with misunderstanding, yelling, name-calling, slammed doors, stunned silence, and tears.
There was a kind of weighty sadness that just hung in the air for a few hours at the end of a long day.
As I sat trying to think, to pray, to figure out what to do, I was struck by the almost palpable longing for reconciliation that I felt. I wanted so desperately for things to be made right before bedtime. I was almost sick at the role that I had played in a situation that had no need to escalate. I was desperate to undo what I had done, to unsay what I had said, to clean up the mess. Eventually, of course, things cooled down. There were “I’m sorry’s” and “I forgive you’s” and “I love you’s” and it was wonderful. It was like an unbearable burden had been lifted—like the cosmos had, with a few simple words and hugs and tears, been realigned to its proper course.
I’ve been reading Luke 15 today in preparation for Sunday worship, and have been struck, as I always am, by the parable of the prodigal son. It is as beautiful a picture of the love a father has for his child as you could hope to find. Yet how easily we forget that this is what our Heavenly Father is like. How easily we imagine that God is a severe Father, ready to pounce at our every mistake, hungry to judge our fickleness, our faithlessness, our sin. How easily we imagine an austere, remote Father who lets us tramp around in his world for a bit, but who cares very little about the details of our lives. How easily we fear God, in the least biblical sense of the word.
In Matthew 7, Jesus asks his listeners,
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
As I was sitting in my chair the other night, desperately searching for the route to reconciliation, I found myself thinking along these lines. I am light years from being a perfect father. I make innumerable mistakes, many of the “predictable and entirely avoidable” type. And yet here I am quite literally sick with longing to be reconciled to my children when things go awry, when there is hurt or disobedience or disrespect or a general failure to love as I/we ought to love one another. Here I am stumbling and bumbling and groping around, trying to mend what is broken, to staunch the bleeding, to somehow make things right, almost as if my life depended on it.
Whatever I may or may not be able to say about God, it is surely true that God is better than me!
And so, if this is how I feel about my children, why would I ever imagine less from God? How could I imagine anything less than a God who would go to the ends of the world to locate the lost sheep, to find the missing coin, to embrace his wayward child? If this is how deeply I love my children, how could I imagine less from the God who gave me life and who never stops offering it to me, again and again and again? If this is how I hurt when there is a fracture in a relationship that I have bound myself to, how much more must God hurt for his children’s sin, stupidity and stubborn rejection of the way that leads to peace?
If this is how I—a truly lousy lover/father compared to God—feel about and act toward my children, how much more must the truest, strongest, most beautiful and faithful tender of our souls look upon us with love, and do what is necessary for things to be well between us.