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Recovering A Good Father

“Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us. Jesus came to change our minds about God.”— Richard Rohr

Someone asked me recently why the Bible always presents God in masculine form. She wondered why God, who is spirit, didn’t appear to mankind as a mother. It’s a fair question, and a good one, though I had no good answer for her. Mainly, I ached for the suffering she’d endured and how it had damaged her understanding of God the Father. But if it is true that God is every moment being revealed in story and nature and Scripture and song and billions of faces crafted in God’s image, what is so important about God appearing to us as a Father? Why did Jesus say, instead of “My Mother and I are one,” “My Father and I are one”?

Not long before that conversation, my kids and I were watching Peter Pan, and something about the movie surprised me. In this particular adaptation, the filmmakers took a story about the wonder of childhood and the bittersweet beauty of growing up and added a poignant detail. They cast one actor for two roles: Wendy, John, and Michael’s father and Captain Hook. One moment, the children are tumbling into their father’s workplace, thwarting his attempts to impress his boss, seeing their father’s fury and disapproval, and receiving a shouted command to “Grow up!” The next they’re in Neverland, and the sworn enemy of childhood wears the same face. Daddy and Captain Hook are the same. It broke my heart.

Like all good fathers, the Good Father is not the enemy of childhood, but the custodian of it. Helena Sorensen

To crowds of confused people, Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And they couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They’d drifted so far from the beautiful face of the Father, had lost so completely the love of the Father for the Son. They’d come to see the Father as bloodthirsty. He wore a look of permanent disgust. And his voice? His was the voice of thunder, wasn’t it? The voice of whirlwind and storm? He was the one with the lists of expectations, the one demanding that they grow up, do better, get it right this time. The loving Father had become, in their darkened minds, the sworn enemy of childhood. They needed a Jesus-shield to protect them from his wrath.

By then the human race had come of age. They were desperate for a Good Father. They had suffered, they’d seen injustice, and with terrible determination they’d commanded themselves to grow up. They’d stifled all that was fragile and childlike within them. “Except you come as a little child,” Jesus said. But how? How can a little child find the courage to face that all-powerful being? How can Pan snuggle up to Hook? “And this is eternal life,” Jesus said in the gospel of John, “that they might know you.” We couldn’t come as children, couldn’t trust like children, without a Good Father. So Jesus came to give him back to us.

On the cross, as he descends into the deepest darkness of humanity, as he takes on himself the lie that the Father cannot be trusted, that the Father has abandoned us, Jesus quotes Psalm 22. He utters Adam’s cry, and it is the cry of a child without a Father. But Jesus is no more abandoned than Adam was. With his very next words, he places himself into the Father’s hands. That impossible act of childlike trust unravels Adam’s failure. The veil that for thousands of years had hidden the beautiful face of God is torn apart, and at last we can see the Father.

To our complete astonishment, he doesn’t look like Hook.

Like all good fathers, the Good Father is not the enemy of childhood but the custodian of it. I’m praying that the Spirit of God would turn the hearts of children to their Father. That the people of the world, all children of God, would say, “Someone is in charge and he is good.” I’m praying that the Spirit of God would turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. That the fathers of the world would say, “It is good to be a child, for my children and for me, because someone is in charge and he is good.” May we recover the knowledge that it was God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (II Cor. 4:6), that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father, that in the Father is no darkness, nor any shade of turning away from us (James 1:17). His is the unchanging gaze of love, and in that light we are free to be children again.

Today if you hear him, Skipping rocks on the river, Laughing in the garden, Like when you were young Today if you hear him, Walking through the pine woods, Racing down the big hill, Calling you to come Don’t be too grown, oh, For your own sake. Let the children come, Let us become like children today. Today if you hear him, Let your feet take off running, Don’t worry who is watching, Let him kiss you on the face. Don’t be too grown, oh, For your own sake. Let the children come, Let us become like children today. Let the children come, Let us become like children today. —Taylor Leonhardt, “Today If You Hear Him”

Artwork Credit: “Security” by Dana Jensen

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