My oldest son just celebrated his fifteenth birthday. He almost didn’t make it. Two weeks ago Daniel decided to attend a friend’s overnight birthday party. Did he ask mom or dad for permission? Pencil in his plans on the calendar? Leave us a note? Send up a smoke signal? Nope. Daniel simply slipped out the back door one Saturday night, hopped on his bike and pedaled to his friend’s house, plunging me and my husband into a special kind of hell: the one reserved for parents of a missing child.
If you’re a parent, you may know the feeling: the gut-gushing, jugular-jolting, spine-stiffening, soul-shredding sucker punch of, “My child is lost and I can’t find him.” Is there any more horrible feeling for a parent?
After calling the police, the state patrol, the FBI, every local enforcement agency under the sun, our pastor, and half the population of the Western world, a full-press search was initiated. While the sky carved out thick slabs of gray and ladled them over the landscape like stale soup, half the county was out looking for my son. Horrible as that feeling was, I have an inkling that I’m not alone in the emotion. Another Father knows what it’s like to have lost loved ones.
Funny thing is, lost people don’t always know that they’re lost, separated from the One who wants to be their Father. Searching for home, they wrap themselves around any and every “ism” from here to Pluto: Atheism, existentialism, materialism, intellectualism, and hedonism. Environmentalism, secularism, post-modernism, nihilism. They bury themselves in academia, social causes, health gurus, keeping up with the Joneses, busy-itis, or church. At the end of the day, however, they’re still spiritually separated from God. They live in dark rooms in dark houses on dark nights with no moon.
So what does the Seeker do? Unlike us, He doesn’t panic, He plans. Promises. Pursues. Back in Genesis, for example, the dust had barely settled from The Fall when the Father forms a search party. Speaking to the serpent, He’s already heading up the posse:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers:
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
-- Genesis 3:15
The antagonism between people and the snake noted here symbolizes the outcome of the titanic struggle between God and the Evil One, a struggle played out in the hearts and history of humankind. The offspring of the woman would eventually crush the serpent’s head, a promise fulfilled through a blood-drenched cross and an empty tomb. Or, as hymn writer Charles Wesley puts it:
Rise, the woman’s conq’ring seed
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
True, not everyone responds to this “paternal posse.” They may be within a prayer’s whisper of a strobe light, yet they cannot or will not flip the switch. Even more tragic, some are so used to groping along in the dark that the slightest pin prick of light assaults their vision and they slam each eye shut like a steel-jawed trap.
Then there are those who simply don’t want to be found. They may hear the Father’s call but they refuse to respond. They’re busy filling their “God-shaped inner vacuums” with every kind of distraction, noise, toy, trinket, and diversion under the sun, drowning out the “still, small voice” of the Seeker.
Sadder still are those who have responded but can’t quite bring themselves to leave the darkness completely; they’d rather straddle the fence. Choosing to live neither in pitch dark nor in noon light, they subsist instead in the shadowy, In-Between world of partial pledges, flimsy faith and Swiss cheese commitment. Or, to paraphrase Wesley, they may not embrace Adam’s image entirely, but they clutch the likeness too tightly to want it “stamped out.”
So, what happened with my son? Thanks for asking. Daniel slithered in the back door twenty-four hours later, mumbling something about, “I told my brothers to tell you where I was going.” (Thanks a lot. Some things are too absurd for commentary. ) Besides being grounded for the rest of his life, the list of curtailed privileges and increased chores Daniel earned with his AWOL antics would make a Marine Corps drill sergeant cringe.
“I guess I did something really stupid, huh Dad?” Daniel observed later, garnering world class honors for Understatement of the Year.
“Stupid, son?” my husband replied, stuffing his heart back into his chest. “Oh no, this goes waaaay beyond `stupid.’ We passed up `stupid’ ten exits ago.” They had a long talk as Daniel unloaded a truckload of “explanations” and Chris reaffirmed a father’s love for his child.
A lost child is a special kind of hell for any parent. Daniel was separated from us for a time due to miscommunication, poor planning, and sheer stupidity. But humanity is separated from a holy God by sin just as surely as a dark house is separated from illumination without a light source. To turn on the switch, another Father sacrificed His own son to reinstate us in His love and light the way Home. He so longs for you to become His child that He left heaven and invaded earth to head up a search party.
Perhaps you hear Him calling your name now. Have you answered, or are you still stumbling around in the dark? The Father’s out looking. What are you waiting for?