More in Sorrow than in Anger
I had dinner recently with a couple whose first child is just short of six months old. Naturally, he dominated a lot of the conversation. As a matter of fact, he dominates a lot of other aspects of their lives as well. Infants tend to.
He is a sociable little boy, within the confines of his abilities to communicate. Like most babies in well adjusted circles, he comes in for a lot of attention: his standard means of dealing with it seems to be a fairly lengthy scrutiny of whoever is angling for his attention, followed by a grin. Sometimes the grin is accompanied by a vocal gurgle. He seems to want to be involved.
During the dinner, after young William had gone to bed, his mother made a comment that I have reflected on in the days since. “I can’t bear the thought of him being naughty,” she said.
It was the comment of a loving mother, not of a disciplinarian. She will, of course have to become both and she knows that. But right now, she is enjoying the emergence of a personality, even though we all know in our heads it is as self-centred as everybody else’s, and she is simply glorying in the pleasure of life and enthusiasm.
I imagine that God’s like that. Here we are, his children to whom he has given life, full of potential and discovery, and I guess he delights in us at least as much as any parent delights in a new-born child. And then he has to watch as we systematically develop the skills to express selfishness, greed, corruption, exploitativeness, pride and a whole list of corruption too wearying to enumerate.
When we see these things in ourselves or, more likely, observe them in others we tend either to hope God won’t notice or imagine that he will be angry. No doubt we have good reason to fear his anger: Adam and Eve were clearly embarrassed by their original sin, and nothing much has changed since then, whenever it was. But William’s mother expressed something different from potential anger. She was getting at disappointment, at hurt, at reduced mutuality of trust and of simple fun.
I teach Religious Education, often to people who have a limited habit of thinking in theological terms. More than once I have been asked, “Why do you think God made us?” Well, like every other created person, I can only speculate on that. But I think I can speculate reasonably fairly. I think God simply wanted to enjoy us. And when I look at William and his family, I am reinforced in that view. The Bible says that he loves us, after all. It’s not too hard to draw a parallel.
And then I hear William’s mother say that she can’t bear the thought of her child’s becoming naughty. Not because he will make her angry, which I have no doubt he will do. Nor because she will have to learn to live in the light of it, which she will have to do as well. Nor is she expressing a half dozen other aspects of the fact that her child is a member of the human race and shares its propensities. She is simply saying that her love for him is such that she does not want to see it challenged, cheapened or taken for granted. And I think that God must feel like that, too.
Someone once said that the real thing about sin is not so much that it breaks God’s law as that it breaks God’s heart. I don’t think I have thought enough in those terms. If I could gain a genuine vision of the God of the universe really caring that my desires are less than noble, that my sordid preoccupation with myself limits my potential as well as my usefulness, that those things turn my thinking into less than he dreamed for it, perhaps I could be channelled into higher things. If that were so, then of course I would benefit, but so would everyone else.
So would God. Is it too presumptuous to believe that God who loves us is benefited by being able to take pleasure in us? Every time one of God’s children gladdens the heart of the Father, perhaps the universe is enriched. William’s mother will not be the only parent who can’t bear the thought of her child being naughty.