His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.
Job really loved his kids. He went before the Lord for them regularly, and he certainly saw after their welfare. I think, at least I hope, most parents feel the same way.
But not all. Not all.
I’m a middle school teacher and I have seen some pretty bad parents. Actually I have surmised more than I have seen of the really bad ones because those parents usually don’t show up anywhere near school.
I could share stories, skirting and hiding identities to avoid losing my job, but there are plenty of examples appearing in the news all too regularly.
Aside from the tangible wreckage these people leave in their children’s lives their actions affect the relationships those growing hearts will have with God. God the Father. If an earthly father is absent, or neglectful, or apathetic, or abusive, it is very difficult for people to believe in the real thing.
Not impossible. Just difficult.
For those who have experienced that difficulty it is easy to understand the importance of doing the job right.
I was afraid of my father... but I still love him. I love my heavenly father, The Father. But sitting here pecking at these keys I realize I also fear my heavenly father. The idea of meeting Him quickens my heart.
I was speaking with a friend this morning about a story Bob Cryder had told about the Palestinians discovering the Ark of the Covenant under the temple mount (the story tells it was quickly sealed back up). Just the idea of being near that sacred object makes my heart race. It was on that container that God almighty dwelt. He was there as a pillar of fire, and a pillar of smoke. Within that golden chest lies Moses’s staff and the tablets carved by the finger of the almighty God.
The idea of looking upon The Ark makes me tremble.
Do I fear God because I feared my father? Probably. But I would probably fear God anyway.
When I worship on Sunday morns I do so with my eyes tightly shut, knowing that He is listening, that He is accepting my small token of heartfelt vocal offering (as awful as it sounds to human ears). I haven’t had my eyes open during worship for a dozen years. How can I think about anything else when the creator of all things is listening to what I am singing? If singing before your maker doesn’t make you nervous you aren’t thinking it through. (People get nervous before ordinary auditions!)
Why do I fear my father? Actually, feared, past tense, is more accurate as I live a 1,000 miles from him and I am all grown up now. I feared him because he beat me with a belt, sometimes for things I didn’t do. I feared him because he is untrustworthy. I feared him because more than once he thought about... well...
Allow me to share.
My mom and he split up when I was in the third grade.
When we moved away I missed him. I dreamt he and I shared a bath. He was washing my hair and laughing. It felt so good to be close to him. His loving eyes were set in a strangely red triangular face, framed with a goatee and horns. His barbed tail waved in the background before the doorway to the screened-in balcony were we slept one summer night as a family, overlooking the yard where my brothers and I were cowboys and Indians, pirates and Tarzan and Zorro.
He was a powerful man. Strong, quick, and he knew so much. He smelled of diesel, grease, grain, and sweat. He was a mysterious giant, a god, and they told me I looked so much like him. I leaned in doorways with my arms folded the way he did, and tried to swagger. And I tried to be powerful, strong, and quick.
It would probably have been best if that is where my relationship with him ended. As I became a teen I learned how far short of his expectations I fell.
I couldn’t do anything right. Not for him. I poured too much oil in the truck. I couldn’t pick up a hubcap stuck in a pile of dirt with the track loader racing over it at full throttle. I couldn’t find a date (“I think the kid’s a fawking homosexual!”). I couldn’t even pick up sticks and debris right (“Get back to work! I want to see nothing but azzholes and elbows!”).
My father loved me. I think he was just disappointed. I read too much for him. Or talked too much. Or thought too much. Perhaps the first-born should be different. Mike was agile enough, mechanical enough, more libido-driven.
In our teens Dad did share a dream of his with us, and so we built, Dad and us three boys, the Gxxxxxxxf Ranch. Too bad we lost it to Mom and my stepfather for back child support.
There were a couple of strange incidents after we moved under his roof. Once, in San Clemente, an old tall house was coming down so that a new tall house could stand on long stilt-like toes on the cliff’s edge, to better peer at the crashing surf below.
Dad made a living crushing things with big yellow machines while we kept the dust down with fire hoses. Between loading trucks with debris we horsed around.
Mike and I played with the fire hoses to keep cool while my dad mixed screwdrivers. I was taking a nap when a shaft of water from the three inch line woke me, pushed me, and finally knocked me off my feet. We laughed and I plotted revenge.
After lunch Dad started the loader and yelled for us to grab the bucket. Mike and I jumped to catch the edge of the dinosaur-like machine, its neck stretched out level, its jaws closed. It raised up; our bodies swung against its cool metal chin while the ground dropped away. I had grabbed the sharp cutting edge and shifted quickly to a rounded metal tooth. Gently the bucket rolled downward until we could see him at the controls, laughing, cheering us for our strength.
The machine clanked slowly forward; he was watching us carefully to see if we were weakening. He looked proud of us. We watched the ground roll beneath our feet, then the rocky cliff edge, and suddenly, the vertical slope embracing open space, the surf fifty feet below. Under us sea gulls were dancing on foaming water.
Dad had a thin, hard smile. Mike and I glanced at each other. This was hard!
Slowly the bucket tipped forward, its front edge lowering to dump. The bucket’s interior turned from a shelf to a downward slope. When the level was greater than 45 degrees dirt slid out, dusting Mike and me as we clung to the metal teeth of the steel-jawed monster. Dad was no longer smiling.
There was a quick up and down shake; we held on. The cramping in my fingers throbbed to the silent screaming in my mind. Neither Mike nor I yelled. Abruptly the bucket tipped back up, and the mechanical dragon retreated to the pile of crushed house waiting for the truck to return from the dump.
So I tremble when I think of God.
But I love Him with all of my heart.
And I love my children gently.