Who was God the Father before he became Father to humankind? Did becoming a Father change God?
I recall the pain I felt, though it was decades ago. It occurred in the emergency room of a hospital in Asheville, N.C. “Cookie! Mommy! Night-night!” my toddler son screamed. He used every word in his vocabulary to convey his terror as the physician began the six stitches over his eyebrow. His mother and I were standing there in the room; why wouldn’t we come to save him? My knees almost buckled in anguish. A father’s role is to protect and save his children from harm, and I was a total failure. I still have nightmares.
I recall the intense fear, though it was decades ago. It occurred in the emergency room of a hospital in Duluth, GA. My son, a sophomore in high school, lay motionless, strapped on the gurney. He’d been injured, hit on the head while playing sandlot football. His friends had helped him to the sideline, then resumed their game. It was half an hour before they realized he was unconscious. By the time I arrived, he looked dead. At that moment, I was fairly certain I would die as well. I still have nightmares.
I recall the sadness, though it was years ago. The grief was so overwhelming that I cannot yet write about it. I am not yet ready to “process” the sense of helplessness. Guess what—it involved my child. I still have nightmares.
Having children introduces one to a higher level of vulnerability than one has ever known. And there’s no way to prepare for it. Moreover, it doesn’t end when the child reaches adulthood; the stakes simply get higher. A broken favorite toy, the demise of a pet goldfish, an overtime defeat in the play-off game become replaced by a non-optional relocation, unemployment, a divorce.
I’m not writing about children alone, but about the appalling risk of deeply loving anyone. You cannot love without being exposed to crushing vulnerability. Yet the vulnerability itself is what makes life so much sweeter, more precious than ever before. Without that risk, life grows safer but loses its savor. The vulnerability of loving throws you into the bull ring, where you find yourself very, very alive.
“Let us make humans in our own image,” said God at creation. I believe this was the concluding line of a long, long debate between Father, Son, and Spirit. The Godhead was not naïve. The risks were well-considered, the dangers well-pondered. Then God breathed into the dust. Since that moment, creation can joyfully proclaim, “God is love!” And from that moment, God has never been safely the same.