Kristin’s parents doubled their yield of grandchildren these past two months beginning with Owen back in April, Matthew about two weeks ago, and now Samuel on Wednesday. Seeing Sarah and Ben’s baby two nights ago was a thrilling venture on two levels- the immediate one of excitement for them as new parents and love for a brand new nephew, but then a reflective one that arose through a sort of historical overview of how we all arrived at this remarkable event. It transpired in a quarter of an instant, just a flash that makes s breath look like a decade. It came in two stages. The first stage: I was awestruck by a very powerful perception of how I have known Sarah and Kristin as unique personages for many years now, years that have witnessed scores of life changing momentousness, manifest as difficult decisions, career changes, graduations, moves, marriage, and now babies… The stuff that makes an existence a life. I was astounded in this nanosecond-long reflection by how these two people (and myself as involved observer) had changed so much in the years between my first coming to know them and this present moment. Changed, and yet… Not changed.
Each one of us stands in both continuity and discontinuity with ourselves in our relation to time, to other people, and to God. We never quite arrive at a final definition of who we are, yet all the while we live in and with the working definition which God has authored for us, a definition He is constantly honing and refining. And yet, all the while, we are ourselves. Even after years of change and growth, the Kristin and the Sarah I know now are paradoxically the same Kristin and Sarah I knew before. The metamorphosis that has taken place in intervening years has not annihilated those persons I knew in the past, but rather has sculpted them more fully into who they truly are. They both are and are not the persons I have known all this time!
The sight of Sarah cradling little Samuel initiated the second stage. The fragility of that newborn boy closed the circuit of my sudden contemplation. I was given a keen reminder of the implausibility of human happiness in the face of all that a fallen universe has to wield against it. Its arsenal is vast and malicious, its strength overwhelming. Genuine joy, it seems, is something of a miracle. Samuel is both a sign pointing to that reality as well as a vessel pouring out a refreshing draught of that reality. His helplessness mirrors our own, and signifies the unlikeliness of hope; hand in hand with that, his very existence is proof positive of God’s miraculous gift of that joy. He reminded me that God is not usually in the business of giving His people unmediated doses of His goodness and love. “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). Jesus, the very exegesis of God, is living demonstration of this: YHWH more often than not skips mystical downloads of raw, divine emotion and instead offers us tangible conduits that bridge the divide between God and us, all the while pointing back to Him. Consider this: we have no immediate sensation of the Sun’s brightness or warmth apart from its rays that reach out to us across the lonely, black gulf of space. The ray is not itself the brightness or the warmth but communicates those qualities to us, unmistakably referring us back to the source of those qualities we so enjoy.
So, Jesus didn’t tell the 5,000 to sit cross-legged and lose themselves in transcendental meditation upon the otherness of God to show them the Father’s character- he fed them instead, and fed them ’til they were good and full! God made the ultimate revelation of Himself a man with a passionate emotional life and limbs fit for serving and loving other human beings. Jesus shows that God delights in giving us glimpses of who He is and satisfying us through the good gifts He richly provides us with to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). And every one of these good gifts is a type of the ultimate good gift himself, Jesus the Messiah, and a reminder of his sacrifice. Like him, they are always pointing back to the Giver, telling us about His nature and the magnitude of the joy He desires to communicate to His people. Each one of them has been purchased for us gladly with the very blood of our Lord. They are all signs, Samuel included, wrenching our gaze towards and coming to rest in the living sign, the author of meaning, who presents us before God the Father joyful and blameless.
This all whizzed through my mind in the span of about three seconds, rather like that elusive bird Lewis wrote about in his “On Fiction” essay. In the days since then, however, the bird has graciously halted its frenzied flight and come to perch and display itself. And all the details keep telling me, “God is good.”