Today is my father’s birthday. Today my earthly father turns eighty-one. My father and I have come a long way in our relationship. Over the years we’ve learned together what love is. What love means. Beginning from when I was a child being fearful of what he would do or say if I did something wrong, to when I was a teenager and resentful that I was not understood and that, seemingly, my opinion didn’t matter, to now. Now, now that I’ve seen the look in his eyes when I graduated top of my class, to when he watched me get married to Michele, when we welcomed my firstborn Madelyn, my second child Claudia and then our boy Joseph into the world.
Finally, I can say with utmost certainty something that was true all along. That is, that man loves me more than his next breath, I am the apple of his eye. Therefore, there’s no hardship he wouldn’t endure, obstacle he wouldn’t overcome and no price he wouldn’t pay to see me live a long, fruitful, abundant, satisfying, productive, blessed life, pressed-down, shaken together and flowing over!
Above all, the person I just described to you is, again, my father. A human. A mortal man with character flaws, sinful by nature, bound by opposing interests of love towards his children and of self-preservation, confined by an imperfect and incomplete understanding of the world around him and how his decisions shape it and vice versa. In spite of all of this, I stand here and tell you that my father loves me, fully, to the best of his ability, and beyond my wildest expectations. I know that if it was up to my father to design and plan the rest of my life I would be in good hands; it would be full of selfless love and abundance of every kind and long years of good health with my wife and children and their children and their children’s children.
I know that if it was up to him, I would never know lack or want. I would have it that my children would be counted among the wise and powerful. We would lend and not borrow. Our tables would overflow with every good thing. We would be a stronghold for the righteous. I would have my family be a safe harbor during the storms. Furthermore, my descendants could no more easily be counted than the stars in the night sky. Again, this is just simply my father, my earthly father.
Yet, with all of his love and goodwill and good intentions, as sure as I know that he loves me, I also know that somewhere along the line he has, unknowingly, unexpectedly and unintentionally wronged me. Somehow. I can say that now not because I know of something in particular that he did. Surely I know it based on what I know him to be. Basically, a flawed human with an incomplete knowledge and understanding of himself, of me and the world around us.
But….as Brother Izzy would say…..”but God!” But God, who is Understanding and Wisdom and Perfection, loves me more than my father ever could and more than I could ever fathom.
The love of God is not like the carnality of human affection and its hierarchies. Surely, even the worse of human families “love” each other after a while simply out of pure habit. The best of human families love each, deeply, from the heart. All of it cheapened by biology. They don’t foster those same strong visceral feelings for strangers, do they? No, the love of God is not that of a father, a mother, a child, of a lover, of a friend or any other: it is all of those, none of those and some much more.
Perfected by love
God loves a part of me that my carnal affections can only say that they love. However, they don’t understand what it means. God loves my soul. My soul is precious to God. My soul is the life-spark created out of the void of space and time by God. He placed it into my very first cell. The reason God loves my soul because He created it. Not like a mother who nurtures a baby in her womb and her love grows with every movement and every additional awareness she has of the growing baby. No. God loved me fully and completely from the moment He first thought of me and decided to assign me to be born for such a time as this.
Thankfully, in the fullness of time, God revealed himself. In this light, Saint Augustine explained that we were given two revelations. The first is the Holy Scripture. The second is Creation. Furthermore, he said that whenever one seemed to be in disagreement with the other it was due to our imperfect understanding of one of the two. In Scripture, God revealed Himself first as the Creator, then as the Lawgiver and Judge.
Regrettably, for too many souls around the world their journey through His revelation stops there. Thanks be to God that we have come to know him as King, Father, Brother, Friend, and Redeemer. Lyrics and verse suddenly spring to mind like “I am a friend of God” and “son, do you know I still love you?” and “I know my Redeemer lives”. The Apostle John wrote, “what Love the Father has lavished upon us that we may be called His children!”
Because God loves us so much He steadily and progressively, through His Mercy and Grace, keeps moving closer and closer to us. In spite of this, we were trying to do our very best to run away from Him. The Israelites wanted Laws like the peoples that surrounded them so God gave them the Ten Commandments. Instantly, in their hearts, they pondered “who is my neighbor”? Still not satisfied, He filled in the “gray areas” for them giving them rules for everyday living. After filling three more Books with rituals and rules and procedures they were still unsatisfied. Then they asked for a king to be like the peoples around them. When they would not listen He gave them Saul.
The Father’s Love
After He watched us break, compromise, detract, subterfuge, lie, cheat, steal, connive, murder and rationalize our way around every single possible Law, Rule, Procedure, and Advice, He came one step closer. He came close and gave us one Rule. One Law above all the Laws and the Prophets. The Law of Love your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.
Unfortunately, He found us physically, emotionally and spiritually unable and/or unwilling to do so and therefore remaining under the weight of the Law and the power of Sin. Therefore, He took one final step towards us. One final solution. “Ego te absolvo”. He said “It is Finished”. “Paid in Full”. “Remember no more”. “Father forgive them”. The hymn lyrics tell that “I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe” that “whosoever will” come and accept freely!
Lavished in Love
Can you conceive it? Being deserving of Death and Hades and Hell and Torment, God sent His Son to die for my son, my father’s son and each and every single one of us! What kind of Love is this?! What father would sacrifice his son for hostile, belligerent, arrogant, self-important, self-righteous strangers or even estranged relatives? Adding insult to injury, He now calls me ”son”, “Heir and Co-Heir with Jesus”!
Finally. My father turned eighty-one today. I know that he loves me. Above that, I know he wishes me well. Furthermore he wishes me more than what he wishes for himself. However, there is One who loves me more than I could ever imagine being loved by someone. Let alone loving someone this way. He loves me more deeply and more fully. The reason I know this because He sent Jesus. God instructed Jesus, the firstborn of many brethren, to leave Heaven to come and stand in the gap.
Obviously, He came to pay our debts. So He came to settle our scores, remove our chains and open our eyes. Jesus came to wash us clean. He came to anoint our heads with oil; to cover us with His blood. Jesus give us news robes for our rags, put a ring on our finger, take us into the Holy of Holies, as honored guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and present us to God the Father as a Bride, perfect and without blemish! Amazing Love!