Once upon a time, there was a father and his little boy. The man was dutiful and taught his son diligence, the arts and sciences, and the importance of church as well. Every Sunday he would show him how and when to stand and kneel, fold his hands, and bow his head. The father showered his little boy with gifts of praise and gave him all his heart’s desire. His precious child was never without food, clothes, or shelter. Happily, and without exception, he blessed him with all the means at his disposal, and his son gained the materials for a life of riches and great achievement. By his father’s hand and words, the boy was never the subject of wrath, abuse, rebuke, or condescension. In all of his academic, professional, and personal life, he knew only success. He grew to seem a happy and fulfilled man.
Not far away, and at the same time, another little boy was born to a different father. This little boy had not a father such as told in the first story. This father was a selfish and uncaring man. To his son he bequeathed a life of deprivation, misery, and suffering. No gifts of praise or blessing came his way from the heart or hand of this indifferent and cruel father. The little boy’s body betrayed the hunger of his stomach and the void in his soul. His childhood brought no smile to his face, no laughter was heard in his voice. Great melancholy greeted him as an adult and pressed down on his spirit with an unremitting sense of utter abandonment.
At the end of his years, the first little boy surveyed his life. Moved along by the force of his father’s teachings, he set sail through a life of approval and the pleasures of his achievements. He found much satisfaction in his father’s precepts and built his life upon them. But, over time, slowly and almost imperceptibly, he lost the brightness in his eyes which was his common fare in childhood. The easy feeling in his heart vanished as well, and in its place came a sense of foreboding and uncertainty. Bewilderment consumed his last days. He had abundance surrounding him, but his heart was empty, save for anxiety and fear. In the end he had no peace, and neither was hope his final blessing.
As his life was different from the first little boy, so too was the end for the second man. The emptiness of his heart grew large through childhood, and matured into a desperate need for what he knew not. Time and again he tried to fill the void inside himself. He searched for understanding but came upon confusion; he sought out knowledge but was deceived; he surrendered to his passions only to find his self-respect cast aside. But, the man pressed on, searching, hoping, and praying. Then, with desperation nearly overwhelming him, there began to grow within him a certainty in the rightness of his cause. That certainty gave rise to a promising hope and continued growing, taking on form and substance. His sense of hope deep inside him grew stronger and spread through his soul. When his days became few, he came to know in his mind and hold close to his heart, the peace which had never been his. In the last moments of his life a wonderful smile washed over his face, and with great expectation, he slowly closed his eyes.
Who was the good father?
Adapted from a sermon by the great 18th century American Puritan Pastor and Reformed Theologian, Jonathan Edwards.