It sounds like such a cliche, but there really are no words to describe it. It’s just a feeling; an overwhelming feeling – like none other in the world. I don’t do it as often as I used to, but there are many nights when I sneak into my children’s rooms and just stand over their cribs, looking down upon their still, motionless, peaceful bodies, and I marvel with a silent and sublime awe. All I can do is literally shake my head in wonder.
Camille and I used to do this pretty much every night for the first year or so of Camden’s life. We would just stand next to each other, looking down at him for 20 or 30 seconds, and do just that: shake our heads.
Because, there’s something about watching your child sleep. For some reason, it’s like nothing else. I don’t know exactly what it is. I can’t put my finger on it. The best I can come up with is that the moment betrays an infinite trust that emanates from your child. There is not a care in the world. There is only peace. There is an implicit trust to the point that he or she can just dream without having to worry about anything. Mom and Dad are near and so there is nothing to fear. (I also experience those moments of guilt when I realize that there are thousands of children in the world whose sleep, night after night, is not enveloped in such peace.)
I’ve often said that ever since becoming a father, I have understood the heart of God as never before; no, I have felt the heart of God as never before. And, at the risk of alienating those without children (either by choice or by lot), I am not sure how anyone can truly be a theologian without being a parent. I knew so little about God’s heart before I was a father.
The whole experience always reminds me of that evocative prophetic picture that Zephaniah painted 650 years before Christ. “The Lord your God in your midst,” the prophet described, “The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
That’s what I’m doing when I stand over my children at night. I’m rejoicing over them with gladness; rejoicing over them with singing. My heart is bursting forth with infinite joy.
It’s hard to believe, but this is the posture God takes toward me. Night after night, He stands over me, quieting me with His love; rejoicing over me for some inexplicable reason – I guess simply because I’m His child.
Sadly, over the centuries, many have tried to mute this theological message. Some have been embarrassed that God could be presented through such anthropomorphic (“ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human”) imagery. The Greek philosophers, in fact, could never allow for the Supreme God to be viewed in such a “primitive” way, and did all they could to turn God into an abstract concept. Thus, Xenophanes of Colophon (570-475 BC) famously declared, “God is one, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or mind.” This philosophy trickled down through Socrates, to Plato, to Aristotle, until it was embraced by the Jewish philosopher Philo (who lived during the time of Christ) – who greatly influenced early Christian fathers such as Clement and Origen. It was then disseminated through Augustine and popularized in its more modern form through Calvin.
For these philosophers and theologians, the anthropomorphic picture of God in the Hebrew Bible was a primitive construct that gradually disappeared as the Bible progressed and advanced through time – until God was altogether stripped of His human metaphors and became a timeless, spaceless, abstract unmoved Mover.
But we know better. We know that God thinks, feels, moves, and responds. We know, in fact, that when we speak of God in human terms we are really speaking of God in God-terms because, after all, Genesis 1:26 tells us that man was created in God’s image and, thus, to ascribe emotions to humans is actually to engage in theomorphism, rather than vice versa.
And thus, I am left with the incredible picture that just as I stand over my son and daughter and rejoice over them as they sleep, God stands over me with love and rejoicing and awe.
I am His child.