Not that this is necessarily unique (in terms of experience) or profound (in terms of newness), but, before returning again to the Epistle to the Hebrews, I wanted to briefly share a concrete example of how God readily reveals Himself to us through seemingly "mundane" actions in daily life. All too often we reject the "common" and the "material" for that which is perceived to be more "spiritual"; this morning served as a quaint reminder of what we might lose when we hold to such a strict dichotomy.
Late last night/early this morning (in the wee hours), our son woke up crying. Although I feel so sad for him when I hear that sound, I love to see his small hands and face stretching over the top of his crib, peering over just barely with his big eyes, so he can be on the lookout for when one of us is coming to rescue him. What started as "my turn" to check on and comfort him soon ended up as me changing his clothes and diaper while my wife tended to cleaning the crib sheets (does she ever get a break?). Anyway, this morning after he ate, no effort on his part could hide how worn out he was from his lack of sleep. And, regardless of how playful he was being and/or wanted to be, he couldn't help but stop to rub his tired eyes every few moments or so. So, while my wife got ready for the day, I took our son to put him down for his morning nap. He was out almost immediately.
Nevertheless, as he is not one to be predictable, about 6 minutes later he lets out an intense scream from his room, having been woken from his short-lived slumber. My wife and I look at each other a bit surprised, each smiling, each jokingly giving the other the "what did you do?" look, so I go in to check on him while she finishes getting ready. As I walk over to the crib, I see the image of our helpless child half-poised to either sleep or stand, his eyes closed, his face red, his lips trembling, and his pacifier clinging to his lips for dear life. He opens his eyes and sees me moving toward his bed, so he gathers as much energy as his tired body can muster to inch toward the railing and pull himself up, seemingly crying to/for me now, as he extends his hand toward my face. I know he is tired, though, and no matter how much I want to hold him (and, really, just wake him up to play!), I know he needs to sleep. With reticence (only because I desperately want to hold him), I tenderly stroke his forehead, speak softly to calm him, and pat his back as he gently lays down again, his cries removed by silence.
But, not for long. Before I even make it to the door (about 5 feet away) his screams return at full volume. Now, at this point, something inside me actually exclaims "Yes!" because now I feel I have justification for picking him up to comfort him, holding him closely to my chest. I mean, he's not really going to go right to sleep anyway, right? We both quietly relish in our victories for the moment.
Then he turns our silent party into active celebration as he pops his head up quickly with this adorable expression that says "Is it time to play?" I just smile. But he can't hold his head up for long, as his tiredness works against him with resolute stubbornness. Still, I know he won't give in easily, so we go to the living room and look at some pictures while I rock him slowly and steadily; he laughs at the pictures of himself, betrayed by the silliness that always signals to us he's too tired to be awake. A few minutes later he rides on my arms back into his room, and he lets out a whimper at the realization of what is happening. He burrows his head into my shoulder as I sing "Here is Love", and he quickly falls asleep in my grasp, slowly and progressively witnessed by his head falling further down my chest. I lay him in his crib and pat his back - this time he is out for good.
Now, any parent reading this is blatantly aware to the commonality of such circumstances. Still, at the moment when our son looked up at me trembling from his bed, I recalled something of the nature of our Father that I could not easily dismiss, nor let go all too soon. Here's what I learned from this so-called "mundane" or "common" event:
1) God is always present
2) God is always near
3) God is always love
4) God cares for our good
Let me make clear from the outset that we need to take care that we do not anthropomorphize God by thrusting our attributes upon Him, and this is not what I am attempting here. Rather, only by the Triune God's grace and because of Christ and His merit can I even look at my life and see semblances of the Father's infinite love who calls us to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us] both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). So, as I share this personal event, know that it is with humility. For, I believe the purpose of this was for God to glorify Himself by His self-revelation, as I recalled His nature through how He has revealed Himself in the past, for example through Scripture. In this manner, I believe that God uses such things to both reveal His perfections and to encourage us toward what we are called to, which we can never fulfill apart from being in Christ as we abide in Him and are being perfected by His sanctifying and saving us.
In the moment when our son first awoke from sleep, as I looked upon him, two thoughts entered my mind that changed my perspective on the situation: 1) I wondered what our son must have been thinking and feeling as he cried out to me, and 2) I wondered (here I intend both senes of the word, that of "inquiry" and of "awe") at God's love and compassion toward us as He hears our cries to Him. When our son first began to cry, perhaps he felt alone as he looked to see that there was none to comfort him; yet we were present - just outside the door. And this presence is not some abstract notion, but I was near, even though our son might not have realized it. Moreover, even as our son was crying, and perhaps questioned our ability and or willingness to meet his need, what he could have perceived as not reacting fast enough was indeed love as I sought to care for him while not only having his ultimate good in mind, I desired it and wanted to see it fulfilled.
At this point, some interesting analogies can be made that bear upon circumstances in our lives and how we relate to God the Father, along with how He relates to us. How frequently do we cry for Him, and yet falsely regard His action as inaction and distance? Or, perhaps we incorrectly view God's sovereign patience and longsuffering as apathy? Further still, do we not imply that God does not care for us or our good when we assume Him to be aloof? Notwithstanding, our unfaithfulness to God can never inhibit His faithfulness to act in accord with His eternal nature. Even the tersest glimpse of the psalms displays not only His ability to hear, but His willingness and longing to do so as He always condescends to meet our needs and care for us. Moreover, as we read the Scriptures we do not find a silent God who is absent, but, as the title of one of Francis A. Schaeffer's books declares in agreement with God's self-revelation, "He is there and He is not silent" (Schaeffer 1972). God is ever-present, and though it may initially sound redundant, He is always near, and we who are His know that the nearness of God is our good (see Psalm 73:28). God is patient, and while we may see immediate resolution to our problem as the only solution, God knows the end from the beginning; He knows how to act toward us in perfect love with our good in mind, even though our sense of immediacy frequently blinds us to the ways of God for whom "all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26; Mark 14:36). We must entrust our lives "to Him who is able" (see Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:20; Jude 1:24). We may be in a specific situation crying vehemently to God, fearing that He may be absent, that He may be distant, that He does not love us or that He wishes to do us harm. Yet God would have us know, and goes to great detail to reveal about Himself, that He is always present, He is always near, He is always Love (& loving), and He always desires our good, which is ultimately being satisfied in and with Him.
Not surprisingly, we can look to Jesus to see perfect realization of all these attributes (and many others, as well). For, Jesus has "explained" God to us, and as "He is the image of the invisible God...it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in [Jesus]," and for "the fullness of Deity" to dwell in Him "in bodily form" (John 1:18; Colossians 1:15, 19; 2:9). Jesus embodies the attributes of God in a tangible fashion, realizing God's presence, nearness, love, and desire for our good. We have no need to look further than Jesus to understand that our deepest needs have been met through His Person and work in His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Glorification. If God did not withhold, but gave for the world His only-begotten Son, where is the substance of our questioning His presence, nearness, and love?
Schaeffer, Francis A. (1972). He is There and He is not Silent. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.