The Child in the Midst

And he came to Capernaum: and, being in the house, he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them; and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.
— Mark 9:33-37

Such a faith—that God is our refuge, our home—will  not lead to presumption. The man who can pray such a prayer will know better than another that God is not mocked; that he is not a man that he should repent; that tears and entreaties will not work on him to the breach of one of his laws; that for God to give a man because he asked for it that which was not in harmony with his laws of truth and right, would be to damn him—to cast him into the outer darkness. And he knows that out of that prison the childlike, imperturbable God will let no man come till he has paid the uttermost farthing.

And if he should forget this, the God to whom he belongs does not forget it, does not forget him. Life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between to keep up a justly failing belief, but one providence of God; and the man shall not live long before life itself shall remind him, it may be in agony of soul, of that which he has forgotten. When he prays for comfort, the answer may come in dismay and terror and the turning aside of the Father’s countenance; for love itself will, for love’s sake, turn the countenance away from that which is not lovely; and he will have to read, written upon the dark wall of his imprisoned conscience, the words, awful and glorious, Our God is a consuming fire.

Commentary

In the introduction to Consuming Fire, I wrote:

We must understand the childlike nature of Father and Son to be one with them, and we must grasp how this nature should be manifest in us.

What is the childlike nature? “The child sees, believes, obeys—and knows he must be perfect as his father in heaven.” The child who obeys is far ahead of the learned scholar, with his grand theological systems, but who does not do what the Lord has asked. MacDonald observes that the Lord’s parables “are addressed to the conscience, and not to the intellect;” and so “many meaningless interpretations may be given by the wise, while work goes undone, while the child who uses them for the necessity of walking in the one path will constantly receive light from them.” And so “it is the heart of the child that alone can understand the Father.”

In The Voice of Job, MacDonald describes Job as “bemoan{ing} himself like a child—a brave child who seems to himself to suffer wrong.” Job’s continual complaints “are but the form his faith takes in his trouble.” As a true child of God, he trusts in the Father, “and looks to him as the source of life, the gladness of being.”

Within each of the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons, each chapter ends in a way that introduces the next sermon. The concluding paragraphs of The Child in the Midst, which are used for the January 9th devotional above, provide the transition to chapter two, The Consuming Fire. Our "childlike" God provides us the example of perfect fatherhood: He will do whatever it takes to bring us closer to Him--to bring us to perfection. Indeed, for MacDonald, salvation is synonymous with perfection (which is why the doctrine of imputed righteousness was anathema to him). 

It is not so easy to grasp the sense in which God is childlike in the paragraph above; there's a paradox here which is meant to stretch our minds. Perhaps the perfect Father, who will even unleash His consuming fire if that is what we need, is childlike in the sense of single-minded loving devotion.

As a new father, with a child rapidly approaching the age when discipline becomes necessary, this passage is especially meaningful to me! I pray that I will remember that for our Father in Heaven to give us what we want when it is "not in harmony with...truth and right" is to damn us; may He give me the strength and wisdom to guide my own child on the path that leads into His arms. 

The image above is from the edition of MacDonald's novel, At the Back of the North Wind illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith. The Child in the Midst, and its concluding paragraphs, inevitably brings to mind the aforementioned novel. Where does the Problem of Evil present more of a challenge than in the death of a child, like Diamond, who is shown above, nestled in the bosom of the North Wind? The North Wind is tender and loving, yet is also brings about many of the terrible, seemingly random things that befall men, women, and children alike. Yet, MacDonald tells us, we must--like perfect children--trust that "[l]ife is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between..." When we know that the evil that befalls us in fact reflects the will of God, our perfect, loving Father--that, in the end, all will be well--will in fact be the bliss of union with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--then we can endure anything and everything.

And that is Good News, indeed!

--Jess Lederman