Our Father in Heaven
Categories: Heathers Blog
It was eight weeks ago now that I first heard the sound of my daughter’s cry. I’ve heard it plenty since! She was on the other side of the screen where some very skilled doctors carefully lifted her up and passed her to the Pediatrician, who described her birth as ‘coming out through the sun roof’ (cesarean) … but fear not gentlemen … this is not going to be gross blog where I describe all the details of by baby’s birth, tempting though it is. This is about something I learned about the Lord’s Prayer in the operating theater.
I know a lot of people describe the birth of a child as one of the most, if not the most, profound spiritual experiences of their life: if not the birth itself, the experience of holding your own child for the first time. Well, for Adam and I it certainly was so. Having said this, I remember thinking how weird it is that all of the staff in the operating theater see babies delivered multiple times in a week as just a standard part of their work day, and yet for the parents perhaps it’s the most life-changing fifteen minutes of their life. Maybe it’s akin to what it’s like for me to take someone’s wedding or baptism, I guess. It’s always a privileged and profound experience for me, but at the same time, just part of my work day. I very often find myself remembering my own wedding when I lead a wedding service, and similarly, I noticed the staff rostered to be part of Mary’s delivery talked among themselves about their own children and the day that they were born, in amongst commenting on the weekend football results and debating the social value of Facebook.
It was a wake-up call for me as a Minister who spends my life leading prayer, teaching scripture and preparing worship, to be suddenly numb from the waist down, listening to baby Mary’s first cry, smack bang in the middle of a profound spiritual experience that happened without Church and without the Bible. It was a regular experience that thousands of people go through every day, whatever religion or irreligion, and for me, one of the closest encounters I’ve had with God in my life. I felt as though the whole experience had been orchestrated by Him, down to the last detail, and I was just along for the ride; from the shape of Mary’s big toe, to the way her chin wobbled when she lay across my chest, to the conversation about Facebook, everything seemed to have God’s hand on it. So, who needs Church to encounter God? I found myself wondering this, not so much for myself, but for the thousands of people who’ve experienced the miracle of birth without Church and without the Bible.
Do people already get God without needing Christians to tell them all about it? Is there anything the Church really offers that isn’t already on offer in the everyday miracles of life, for free and without the messiness of religion?
(Of course I’m developing my arguing partner here and am about to shoot him down, as I love to do, apologist and teacher that I am!)
This is a question that I found Tim Keller’s book, Center Church, really shed light on for me. The book’s not so new anymore but it is maybe the best text book on missiology I have read (apart from the Bible!). He reminds his reader that outside of God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ, through the written Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit, there is for all human beings a general understanding of God and that as such, “every culture will have some witness to God’s truth in it … This is why Isaiah 28.23-29 can state that anyone who is skilfull in agriculture, who brings forth an advancement in farming science, has been ‘instructed by God’. (Center Church, p109)
In other words, the skilful hands that brought my baby into the world through the development of advanced medical science were revealing God to me. So were my baby girl’s little fingers and toes, which reflected not only the gene pool that formed them, but the God in whose image they were made (Genesis 1.26-28). If God reveals Himself through the world itself, then is the Church spending too much time focusing on all the things that are wrong with the world and why we need saving from it, and not enough time celebrating what is right with the world, and how Jesus came to claim and preserve it? Maybe, but there are good reasons why this ‘general revelation’ isn’t enough. For a start, if we only know God through His works, we focus on the works themselves and not the God who does them and then, easily start to think that maybe we are God.
I think the most common comment people made to me after Mary’s birth, apart from ‘Congratulations’ was, ‘Don’t you feel proud? Proud that you made a human being?’ On one level, yes, nine months of pregnancy is hard work and the safe delivery of a child does have a sense of achievement about it. But honestly, trite as it sounds, the thought that I had created a life never even entered my mind for a second. Surely we don’t think we create life, do we? For me, I was in constant awe at what God had done: something I could never do. I mean, just because we mix the ingredients together and put a cake in the oven doesn’t mean we invented the concept of cake, right? Best analogy I could think of.
What seems obvious to me, is that a little life, full of unique personality with its own unique destiny, with the capacity to love other human beings, cannot not come out of nowhere. It can’t be the result of an accident, or a force or an ‘energy’. A life with the ability and instinct to relate to other people has to, for sure, come from a life that has the ability and instinct to relate to people. We are relational because we come from a God who is relational. If we are parents it’s because we come from our parents who come from their parents, who come from their parents … who come from the first human beings … who come from the ultimate parent of human life, who we call God. He is the ‘I AM’; a supreme being who exists with His own consciousness and personality, as well as a capacity and desire to love and create. And there is only one of Him. And He is to be worshipped and adored, in just the way that we marvel at every little thing a newborn baby does.
And it’s not enough to simply enjoy and marvel at God’s works. There’s more to be had. What we want is a back-stage pass. Why do we all want to get back stage and meet the singer/songwriter in the flesh, up close and personal? Because when you love someone’s work enough, something in you wants to know and understand them; even have them know and understand you, and what their work means to you. And the good news of Christianity, in a sense, is that we can have that back stage pass. We can personally know that unseen God who crafted every human life, lovingly and with intent.
Because of what has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ, we know some beautiful things about God. For a start, He is more than ‘God’, He is Father. He is more than Father, he is Daddy. He’s even more than Daddy, He’s Daddy who lives in heaven. We need something more than experiencing God’s works through the everyday miracles of life. We need to know our Dad and to know that he has a place for us where we will always belong and where we can feel safe and loved and forgiven; that we belong with Him in heaven. Just like the skilful hands and watchful eyes of the Anesthetist who helped deliver my girl, the gentle humour of the Pediatrician and the nurse who held my hands and said, “Just squeeze if it hurts”, we need to know the touch and presence of our Father in heaven. If we don’t pursue this, then we settle for the evidence of something divine as seen through the work of human hands and in nature, and these, wonderful as they are, will never lead us home.