Far the most important thing we can know about George MacDonald is that . . . an almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.—- C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald: An Anthology
Fatherhood as the core of the universe.
When I first read this statement more than a decade ago, two things struck me. One, it is a grand and sweeping claim. Two, I had no idea what MacDonald meant. Not a clue. But it intrigued me so much that I kept thinking, and it slowly started to make faith-shifting sense. Fatherhood is not merely a motif God chose as he revealed himself to us. Nor is it merely an anthropomorphic device to relate to us. Jesus called him Father because he is. As the Trinitarian God is the center of the universe and of all reality, so is Fatherhood and Sonship. Fundamentally, ontologically, metaphysically, truly, actually, really. As Lewis says, Christianity is that religion in which the relation of a Father and Son is prior to and more central to all other relations. And it has been this way eternally. Jesus tells us as much.
Francis Schaeffer noted that even though Scripture starts with “in the beginning,” something was there before the beginning. John 1:1 speaks of what existed before Genesis 1:1, and John 17:24 clarifies, giving us the opportunity to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation between God the Son and God the Father. Jesus says, “Father . . . you loved me before the creation of the world.” So before “in the beginning,” there was a loving Father. And before “in the beginning,” there was a real Son loving, adoring, praising, and enjoying a very real Father. Jesus, in John 17:5, says they also shared glory.
This is a mind-blowing and universe-shifting truth. It means that the universe is not a dark, empty, impersonal place. Just the opposite. At its core, it is an overwhelmingly warm, relational, personal place. This explains why broken and unhealthy relationships, loneliness, and abandonment are among the most painful of human experiences.
More specifically, consider why all cultures have a problem called “fatherlessness.” People who don’t suffer from the “father wound” are as fortunate as they are rare. It is not a cultural construct. It does not exist in the imagination. It exists because Satan despises and seeks to pervert and destroy—-every day, every moment, everywhere in the world—-that which God is. As such, he sets himself against the God-like, life-giving nature of mothers (see Genesis 4:1) through the human evil and pain of abortion. But he also loathes our fathers and those of us who are fathers. He recognizes fatherhood’s power. He recognizes each earthly father’s iconic nature. He realizes the pain it causes God and his image-bearing creatures when fatherhood is corrupted. And this delights our mortal enemy.
How many of us had a dad like the one who welcomed back the prodigal son mentioned in Luke 15:11? His heart is deeply compassionate, non-judging, and forgiving toward his son. He loves freely, openly, and boldly, without condition or expectation. Jesus tells us this is what his Father—-and ours—-is like. As such, it is reality’s very character. We yearn so passionately for the true acceptance of our fathers and are crushed by their shame and judgment for the deepest of reasons.
The Christian Story: Rich in Fatherhood and Fatherlessness
What are the first recorded words of our Savior in the Scriptures? “I must be about my Father’s business.” Jesus’ first words—-when Mary and Joseph scold him for scaring the wits out of them after getting separated for three days—-are about his Father and his house, as if to say, “Where else would I be?”
What are the words that got Jesus killed? The Lord is arrested and asked a pointed and very serious question by the high priest. He knows his answer will light the fuse. In Matthew 26 they ask, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus responded “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Jesus knew exactly what he was saying. The high priest knew exactly what he was saying, so he tore his clothes because of the blasphemy. Jesus is the Father’s Son. Jesus was killed in a savage way for stating this truth. Satan was bent on attacking the divine sonship and fatherhood. And so Christ was condemned to die.
How do you wound a father more than by killing his only son?
What were Jesus’ last words at his crucifixion? Matthew and Mark report they were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” John records “It is finished” as the last words uttered. At noon on this terrible day, the sky went dark and remained that way for three hours. God turned his face from the Son because of the sin he bore for our behalf on that rugged cross. Words cannot adequately describe the significance of this forsakenness. The Evil One sought to attack fatherhood at its core by separating Father from Son. But we know the rest of the story. Image the glorious union between them in the Resurrection and Ascension!
In the Blue Like Jazz film, one character ruefully observes that God has a major PR problem in referring to himself as Father because of the raw deal that so many have gotten from their fathers. But have we ever considered that the sins of our fathers, being so hurtful in such wounding ways, offer evidence that fatherhood is indeed divinely profound? Or that the pain itself suggests the existence of a great, welcoming Father who has placed a desire for him in the deepest part of our being?
It does so indeed, in an intense and penetrating way. It does because Fatherhood is the core of the universe.