Imagine a boy, 12, on a scout camping trip. He has a tendency to impatience and impetuousness, certainly not uncommon for a boy that age. As a result, he did a poor job setting up his tent, and now he’s cold, and wet.
The conditions are miserable, but they’re nothing alongside the overwhelming pathos obsessively occupying his mind. His father is on this trip, too, in his own tent on the other side of the path, where the adult leaders have set up their camp. The boy begins to impute his own miserable conditions to his father. He imagines his father alone in his own tent, lonely and cold and miserable; enduring only for love his son. The boy’s worry and concern for his father deepen. It’s all he can think about. His heart aches for his poor father.
And Now His Father
The boy doesn’t realize it, but it isn’t really very late. Though there has been rain, it is intermittent, and the cold is held at bay if, unlike with the boy, one’s coat or sleeping bag is dry. So the father is only bemused when, a few minutes after he’s crawled into his warm dry sleeping bag, his son shows up at the entrance to his tent, babbling incoherently his concern. What comes across is only a general sentiment that he, the boy, was worried for his Dad. The father gets up and reassures his son, and goes with him to help put his gear in order. The son climbs in and is soon fast asleep.
The father initially puzzles over this little episode, but comes to understand that what drove his son was not muddled thinking or fear or anxiety-induced sleeplessness. It was love. And it wasn’t just a positive sentiment arising from the relationship, or empathy for imagined distress. The boy has a profound feeling of attachment, still, to his father. This is something that goes beyond even close familial relationship. It is a kind of one-ness that the child feels with the parent. A unity that is entire, in infancy, and is still strong, in childhood.
The father experiences a pang of pathos himself, understanding the origin of his son’s actions. His son has a sense of one-ness, with his father, but the process of maturing, with his father’s guidance and help, is one of unzippering that one-ness, until the son is emotionally strong on his own. The father is ruefully conscious that it is his job to bring about that separation in a healthy way. In fact, this very camping trip is part of the process. There will come a day when the son is no longer tied to his father in this indissoluble way. And now they are a significant step closer to that day.
Whether we had a good relationship with our father, or a bad one, or no relationship at all, we nonetheless have an idea of what a good parent-child relationship is. Normally we aspire to it, in our relationships with our own children. And if we don’t have children, it nonetheless forms our understanding of the fundamental element of continuity, down through the generations. It is an element of one-ness, of unity; different in kind from friendship or working relationship or any other kind of peer-to-peer relationship.
It is no accident that again and again we are treated to a picture of God to us in father to child relationship. There is, or should be, a felt unity there, a communion, wherein we are to understand that He feels our fears and anxieties and shame and triumphs. And likewise, that we experience that pathos for a God who is not merely wet and miserable in a tent nearby, but beaten, humiliated, scourged, and executed, quite intentionally on our behalf. Only in this can we find purpose in life beyond enjoyment of the good things that come our way, and endurance of the bad. There is more to life than the unguided, purposeless movement of matter that results in the next thing we experience.
And yet, the spirit of the age is materialism, which takes all that from us, and imagines reality to be composed only of material things and forces, and their emergent properties. The scope of reality is thus bracketed, and its empiricist high priests are blinkered against even the evidence beyond supernatural revelation: the fact of existence; of human consciousness; and of an intuition, a sensus divinitatis, that there has to be a God that creates in us a baseline knowing, just as basic as what we see and hear, that can only be tamped down by assiduous effort to avoid the unavoidable.
More on this thought, in Yearning.