The week was over as the two of us stepped out into the shadows of the autumn night—he, a high school senior, and I, the visiting preacher. Knowing that seniors were born to be dreamers, I turned to him as we stood there in the dark. “What are your plans, Jeff, once you graduate?”
Any campus speaker knows that with that simple prod you can unleash a veritable fountain of dreams and desires. I was counting on the recitation of teenage ambitions, the guts and glory of a young man poised on the edge of his future. I was hardly prepared for Jeff’s quiet, measured reply.
He turned and looked into my eyes. And his words have remained with me through the seasons that have long since passed.
Jeff said, “I want to find my father.”
“I want to find my father.” A father he had never known, never met. A father who left home before his child could ever know him. A father who never came home again. Who left behind a boy with a single dream: “I want to find my father.”
Heart-rending words, aren’t they? Not just because of Jeff’s private tragedy but because his cry hauntingly echoes the pain of a heartbroken planet, a civilization of children that still whispers in the night, “I want to find my father.”
Oh, we don’t call it a quest for father, this deep and relentless thirst within our human psyches to discover life’s ultimate meaning. While Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Viktor Frankl spent their lives trying to learn how to quench this subliminal thirst, the reality is that these celebrated psychoanalysts didn’t find the answer.
Which makes me wonder. Maybe all of us are trying to find our father. Not our biological fathers. But “Our Father who art in heaven”?
It’s not that God’s lost, you understand! Not that He’s lost, but forgotten. And when you’ve forgotten the Father, you’ve lost the truth about yourself. For is there a child in the world who can truly know who she is without knowing the truth about her father?
Hang around Christianity much these days and you’ll hear a billion dollars’ worth of marketing that sings the name of Jesus on CDs and cassettes, books and banners, TV shows and movie screens. Jesus has always been big business.
But what about God the Father? Why is it that when we see the word God we feel a secret bit of queasiness, a subliminal uneasiness?
Maybe it’s the latent memories of our own fathers that still trouble us. Images of punishing fathers, abusing fathers, fathers who never really had time for us. Or maybe, like Jeff, we never knew our fathers.
Add the notion that Jesus ascended to heaven to be our Intercessor, our divine Go-between, and we’re set up for the worry that if it weren’t for Jesus, the Father would be madder than blazes at the whole lot of us! After all, doesn’t the Bible speak of the “wrath of God”? (Romans 1:18). And if it weren’t for Jesus . . .
It’s no wonder we’re so eager to forget the Father and focus on the Son!
Which makes us very different from Jesus. Read the Gospel of John sometime, and you’ll feel the glow in Jesus’ eyes and the warmth in His words whenever He gets to talking about His Father.
Why, on the very eve of His own death, Jesus turns to the faces clustered about Him in the dancing orange shadows of that upper room and utters one of the most sublime declarations ever made about our Father who is in heaven. One single line that shatters the mistaken notion regarding Christ’s intercession: “I . . . will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you” (John 16:25–27; italics added).
Don’t think, Jesus assures us, that I must interpose Myself between the Father and you. I have good news—the Father Himself loves you! Yes, ask in My name. But you can know this: the answer will come because of the Father’s love.
And don’t forget to whom Jesus is speaking. Judas has just hurried out the door to arrange his nefarious betrayal. And the eleven left behind aren’t exactly models of perfection. Two hours from now Peter will be turning the air blue with his obscene denial of his Master. Not a very lovable specimen of humanity. And you can say the same for Matthew and Thomas and John and Bartholomew. All 11 of Jesus’ closest friends will flee into the night rather than admit their connections with Christ.
And yet, what is Jesus saying as He gazes into their faces? “The Father himself loves you.” No matter your track record, past, present, or future, God the Father really does love you! He loves you so much that you won’t need Me to talk Him into anything. His love is already staked on you. Unconditional, relentless love. That’s what God the Father is like.
How do we know? Look at the cross! Oh, it’s true. The only hint the Gospels give to the Father’s presence at the heartbreaking summit of Calvary is in the cryptic description of the supernatural darkness that shrouded the cross. But when Paul describes Calvary, he uses four short words that declare beyond the shadow of a doubt where the Father was that day when the Son died: “God was in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
No cryptic hinting here! But then where else would you expect the Father to be the day His Son was executed?
“God was in Christ.” Which means the story of Calvary is the tale of two hearts that were broken at one cross. Ellen White’s classic book Steps to Christ puts it this way:
“This great sacrifice was not made in order to create in the Father’s heart a love for man, not to make Him willing to save. No, no! ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.’ . . . The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation [sacrifice], but He provided the propitiation because He loves us. Christ was the medium through which He could pour out His infinite love upon a fallen world.”
How did Jesus put it? “The Father himself loves you.”
Brennan Manning, in his book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, tells about a priest from Detroit, Edward Farrell, who went over to Ireland several years ago on a two-week summer vacation to visit relatives. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday.
On that auspicious day, Ed and his uncle arose before dawn and trekked down to the shores of Lake Killarney. There they stood side by side for a full 20 minutes as the sun slowly ascended into its morning glory. As they resumed their walk, Ed glanced at his uncle and saw that his face had broken into a broad smile.
“Uncle Seamus, you look very happy.”
“I am,” the octogenarian replied.
“The Father of Jesus is very fond of me,” his uncle responded.
Would He remain so long the forgotten Father to you and me if we were to awaken every new dawn with that quiet confession, “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me”? To stand there in the glow of a new day and to declare to our hearts the truth, “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me”? Wouldn’t such good news reshape the negative images we harbor about ourselves and the negative attitudes we hold against others?
Uncle Seamus wasn’t the first to proclaim that good news. Two thousand years before, Jesus had declared, “The Father himself loves you.”
Maybe they’re both onto something.
John the beloved certainly thought so! Six decades after Jesus’ upper room declaration, the disciple who was leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper is now an aged pastor. But he hasn’t forgotten Jesus’ liberating declaration. And so in a letter to the likes of you and me, John’s quill scratches the glorious declaration all over again: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
We aren’t children of God tomorrow. We aren’t children of God someday. John says that we are loved at this very moment by the Father, which makes us the children of God now. “Dear friends, now we are children of God” (verse 2; italics added). Not in the “sweet by and by” but in the here and now. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”
Do you know what that means? Every time you stare into the mirror, your heart can know that the one who stares back is none other than a beloved child of the Father—which surely must mean that God declares over you as He did over Jesus, “This is My beloved child in whom I am well pleased!”
“The Father of Jesus is very fond of me.”
In an age of unprecedented neuroses that keep the professional descendants of Freud and Jung and Frankl well paid and busily occupied, here is the secret to a healthy psyche and a happy soul. Calvary declares the truth about the forgotten Father. And that truth is that He is very fond of us.
For He has lavished His love upon us to the extent that poor or wealthy, educated or illiterate, black or white, young or aged, successful or failed, male or female, ugly or beautiful, short or tall, fat or thin, handicapped or whole, well or ill, holy or sinful, living or dying . . . He has lavished His love on us to the extent that no qualifier or adjective can diminish His concern for the likes of you and me.
“This is My beloved daughter.” “This is My beloved son.” Recognizing that you’re a child of the Father is the doorway to the healthiest self-concept one can have!
Gone our pity-me doldrums. Gone our poor-me whinings.
We are children of the heavenly Father.
Good news, great news, indeed!