Eddie’s Dad

Recently we watched a movie called Eddie the Eagle, a 2016 biopic about an unlikely Olympian ski-jumper, Michael “Eddie” Edwards. It was an okay movie, part Cool Runnings and part Rudy, both of which were better. This was okay for a Saturday night movie night. (If it matters to you, spoilers follow – but honestly, if you’ve seen either of the above movies, the ending has already been given away.)

Eddie the eagleEddie, as in all underdog sports movies, has a dream that seems unlikely, impossible, and foolish. And, again, as in all underdog sports movies, Eddie has a father (or a mother, if the protagonist is female, my daughter-in-law points out) who does not believe in him and reiterates throughout the film how disappointed he is in his son’s outlandish and impractical ambitions. Predictably, Eddie succeeds, opening the way to the dramatic and ostensibly emotional finish where Eddie’s dad meets Eddie at the airport after his triumph with “I’m Eddie’s Dad” embroidered on his sweater and “I’m proud of you, son” on his lips. And everyone goes, “Ahhhh.” Including me.

Until I thought about it.

Throughout the film this dad has ridiculed and derided his son incessantly. BUT, because the son is successful, he has now earned his father’s love and support. Really? This father who has never hugged his son now hugs him because he is a success. The father’s affection is linked to the son’s performance and, as my son would say, “That’s messed up.” What would have happened had Eddie returned a failure? What if Eddie’s dreams had crashed and burned? What then, when he would have needed love and acceptance and a hug even more? I hate to think.

I’m so grateful that a father’s genuine love is not dependent upon a son’s success. I’m so thankful for the love of a heavenly Father whose embrace is ready even when I severely fail. I’m comforted knowing that even if the dreams of this old and crusty sixty-year-old never materialize or if they end in smoke and flames, I have a Father who will still see me as his beloved son. And I don’t need to ski-jump to earn it.

Ironies

When I was young, I was called to a church in Bradenton, Florida, where all the restaurants were jammed at 4:30 in the afternoon with snowbirds and seniors. Closer to my wedding, I did more funerals than weddings.

Now I am older, and I am called to a church in Oviedo, Florida, on the edge of the University of Central Florida, a teeming metropolis of 63,000 students, 90% aged 25 or younger. Closer to my funeral, I do more weddings than funerals.

Is this merely an irony or is it the wisdom of God?

That is, of course, a false dichotomy. The wisdom of God is often full of irony.

Things Given, Things Taken Away

David Brooks in a NY Times column late last year made mention of a man he’s come to know from Nairobi’s famous Kibera slum. Kennedy Odede is a survivor of terrible deprivation who now is joyfully doing notable good works there.

Odebe’s story is one of poverty and loss and abuse and gangs and crime, a list of things that singularly would have overwhelmed and destroyed many. But Odede says this:

While I didn’t have food, couldn’t go to school, or when I was the victim or witness of violence, I tried to appreciate things like the sunrise — something that everyone in the world shares and can find joy in no matter if you are rich or poor. Seeing the sunrise was always healing for me, it was a new day, and it was a beauty to behold.

Sometime after reading that I was running as the sun came up and realized that even how we look at something as commonplace as the rising of the sun (or other ordinary events) is really a product of our faith. If one’s faith excludes God, then one can only look at the sun as the product of the regularity of natural forces. It cannot be seen as a gift, for there is no giver. It is the fortuitous product of those natural forces which in other combinations produce death and disease, mudslides and hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. The sun becomes a symbol of hope only through eyes that are informed by faith.

Christians are just as likely as any to see the sunrise, or other events, no differently than the naturalist or atheist sees them: as, perhaps, solely the product of natural forces or as the fruit of our own hard work, forgetting that all good gifts, whether great or small, come from the hand of God.

We can only be moved to gratitude if we acknowledge a giver. But the thing about a give is that he who gives has the power to take away what he has given. If the food on my table is the product of my hard work, and God only the symbolic source, then my thanks to him is tokenism. If on the other hand I know that the food I cherish is something that he could, if he chose to do so, withhold, only then do I genuinely see it as a gift for which I am grateful.

If what we have is only the necessary outcome of natural events, there is no one to thank, no one to credit, and therefore no one to hope in for anything future. We can only thank someone, only be moved to worship someone, whom we know can also take it away what he freely gives.

My point here is not to answer all the questions that swirl around those times of God’s absence and the pain of loss and suffering. Faith is challenged in many complicated ways and I don’t have answers. My point is rather for us to realize that the more we deprive God of control of our lives and of the natural world, the less hope we will have in him. The ‘smaller’ our God, the less power the rising sun will have to stir our hope for the day that comes.

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)

For Understanding

This is from novelist Ian McEwan’s piece on his relationship with Christopher Hitchens.

THE place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness.

This complex is one of the world’s great concentrations of medical expertise and technology. Its highest building denies the possibility of a benevolent god — a neon sign proclaims from its roof a cancer hospital for children. This “clean-sliced cliff,” as Larkin puts it in his poem about a tower-block hospital, was right across the way from Christopher’s place — which was not quite as high, and adults only.

The highlighting is mine.

That sentence is a call to arms for every apologetic cell in a Christian’s body. But for a moment, let’s just listen.

This is also a very clear, and very poignant, insight into how many think about God. If we have been enabled to reconcile the benevolence of God with a children’s cancer hospital, then let us be grateful to God, but let us as well be sympathetic to those yet to make peace with one of the hardest realities in a broken and fallen world.

And let us pray that we all, especially at Christmas, may have a clear vision of a benevolent God’s breaking into this broken world through a Child.

The Measure of Our Knowledge of God

We may be able for a time to persuade others that our spiritual life is full of depth and glitter. And though it may be less true than we might like, we may for a time begin to believe it of ourselves. As well, our theological erudition, our political savvy, our well portioned service, all may serve to give an outward impression of true spiritual maturity, which may or may not match the inward reality. We may believe ourselves what we work hard to make others believe.

Therefore, it is always good to take this wise caution to heart:

“We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts. Many of us, I suspect, have no idea how impoverished we are at this level. Let us ask the Lord to show us.”

(J. I. Packer, Knowing God, page 27)

How Pleasant

Though our whole family could NOT be together for Thanksgiving, I know that they would have LIKED to have been. And so one of the things I’m thankful for is that I have children who like being with one another. My wife and I have six children, three children-in-law, and three grandsons. And they all love to be together.

And that is one of the greatest happinesses in my life.

Yes, they irritate each other. They know and tolerate each other’s foibles. They sometimes have to put up with one another. But all in all they like each other and have a great time when they are together.

That is a good thing, and it brings happiness to my heart.

And that makes me wonder: when God’s people dwell in unity, whose heart is made happy?

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

He Knows What Lies behind Our Veils

…and he marries us anyway

This article from The Telegraph in London bears a strange resemblance to a certain Jacob and Leah. I’m posting the article here, not knowing how long it will remain on-line at the source.

An Arab ambassador has called off his wedding after discovering his wife-to-be who wears a face-covering veil is bearded and cross-eyed.

The envoy had only met the woman a few times, during which she had hidden her face behind a niqab, the Gulf News reported.

After the marriage contract was signed, the ambassador attempted to kiss his bride-to-be. It was only then that he discovered her facial hair and eyes.

The ambassador told an Islamic Sharia court in the United Arab Emirates he was tricked into the marriage as the woman’s mother had shown his own mother pictures of her sister instead of his bride-to-be.

He sued for the contract to be annulled and also demanded the woman pay him 500,000 dirhams (£85,000) for clothes, jewelry and other gifts he had bought for her.

The court annulled the contract but rejected the ambassador’s demand for compensation.

The report did not identify the ambassador.

A pastor friend I know shared with me that the ‘real him’ is a monster. He is one of the most wonderful men I know, but I see him veiled.

John Murray, the Westminster Seminary theologian reportedly noted that if we could only see into his heart, we would see an awful blackness. People knew him as a godly man. But they viewed him veiled.

I know my heart. I know my sin. I know my weakness. I know what no one else sees. I know what I struggle with and what I am ashamed of. And few others see it, and none see it wholly. I am veiled. And I fear the veil being lifted.

Can you imagine the shame and rejection that this veiled bride must have felt? To be rejected when the veil came off?

We need never experience that. God knows what lies behind the veil. And he loves us anyway.

That is the comfort of the gospel.

The Depth of Divine Mercy

I’ve had no time since returning from our trip to prepare some proper posts. However, I have had occasion to read C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy (plundered from my Half Price Books raid a couple weeks ago) and was struck with his reflections upon his conversion to theism. I’ve heard/read portions of this before, but this morning was compelled to read it multiple times.

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words comppelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (pages 228-229)