See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
Three years ago I was driving home from a work-day at church with my son, Chase. He was six years old at the time – just old enough to start riding shotgun. Music was piping into the car from our local Christian radio station but, after a full day, it was more of an ambient noise than anything else and I was allowing myself to zone-out. I was looking forward to taking my shoes off and enjoying a relaxing evening with the family; the only thing standing in my way was, what I thought would be, an easy ten-minute trip home.
We’re halfway home when we roll up to a stop light and, as road-noise is reduced to the low hum of an idling engine, I make out the sound of Chase trying to spell something under his breath. I couldn’t quite understand what he was trying spell but I could tell he was using phonetics to parse a word he’d never seen before. His focus was palpable and, as he began to crack-the-code, his voice grew a little louder and a little clearer. The last thing I wanted to do was break the concentration of a burgeoning reader, so I just sat there quietly, rooting for him. After a few seconds, I hear him say the word, hoo. Two more seconds pass and I hear him say, hoot. I could tell he almost had it, and I was anxious to celebrate the victory with him. A few more seconds slip by and suddenly, without warning, Chase blurts-out the word, HOOTERS!!! I felt my muscles tense and beads of sweat start to form on my forehead. My feelings of pride gave way to feelings of disbelief, but I knew I’d make it worse if I couldn’t shrug-off the shock. So, I collected myself and immediately tried to identify what Chase was looking at. I traced his line-of-sight and that’s when I realized that his gaze was fixed on the big orange sign (belonging to the popular restaurant chain) located directly across the street from where we were stopped.
Chase beamed with a sense of guileless accomplishment. We sat in silence a few more seconds as I braced myself for the question I knew was coming. It felt like an eternity before Chase finally looked over at me and innocently asked, “What does Hooters mean, dad?” I took a deep breath and summoned all of my wits. I knew I couldn’t lie to him or ignore his question, but I wasn’t going to expound on the euphemism either. At the time, Chase knew nothing about sex – let alone the concept of objectification – so I wasn’t about to explain the innuendo. I knew he wasn’t ready to hear it yet but I was at a complete loss for words. Surely, my pastoral training or theological acumen should’ve prepared me for this conversation! I found myself edging closer to the “It’s nothing … don’t worry about it” response I’d given so many times in the past but, in my heart, I knew that was a copout. So, in a moment of desperation, I asked the Holy Spirit to guide me to a better answer. And, before I was even able to process the words, I responded with, “It’s an owl.”
Now, I know it may sound like I’m building complexities into a simple father/child interaction, but consider the position I was in. I would not lie, nor did I want to dismiss Chase’s question, but I knew it would be inappropriate to expound on the topic. I wanted my response to reflect the heart of a loving father. I wanted to answer my son the way my Father in heaven answers me when I ask him tough questions.
We never stop asking tough questions but, as we get older, the answers seem more elusive. We ask tough questions about relationships, hardships, obstacles, and crisis. We ask questions about the pain we experience or the injustices we witness. We ask questions that the Bible does not answer as clearly or thoroughly as we’d prefer. And, when we don’t get the answers we’re looking for, it’s easy to jump to conclusions about God’s character or adhere to clichés that, ultimately, leave us feeling hallow. When we ask God tough questions we expect full and candid disclosure. We want to know everything He knows. We want to know everything God is planning. And, in throes of confusion or bewilderment, it’s easy for us to forget that God is the Father and we are the children. We forget that we are naïve, simple-minded, undeveloped, finite children. We forget that we are not ready to know the answers that our Father knows. We are not ready to possess the knowledge our Father possesses.
In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. And, in Romans 11:33 Paul says, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! These passages are often only cited in an act of resignation or as a condolence for hardship we don’t understand. But, these passages should mean more to us than just consolation. These passages should provide us with a life-giving picture of the father/child dynamic. Our loving Father in heaven has all the answers, and someday we will too (1 John 3:2). Someday, God’s children will get the answers to our most troubling, heartbreaking and confusing questions… when we’re ready for those answers. However, because we’re not yet ready yet, we can find a sense of peace, with troubling questions, by embracing our role as children. We can find rich assurance in the moment when our heart is broken, or our sense of justice is attacked, or when our conscience is unsettled, if we embrace God’s role as the Father. In this life, we will only know a fraction of what our heavenly Father is purposing and why He’s purposing it. But, we can trust that He will not lie to us or ignore us. And, we can trust that, as our loving and nurturing Father, He will give us the answers we are ready to hear.