Sometimes the deepest truths come in the simplest ways. In my last teaching I shared how the “book of life” has many pages, and as each one is turned we learn new things about our heavenly Father. It is quite common to hear connections made between our natural parents and how we see and relate to God, but far less frequently the connection is made between grandparents and the image of God. Perhaps the old evangelistic saying, “God has no grandchildren.” can lead us away from something precious. Naturally speaking I cannot think of any positive images associated with having been a grandchild. Two of my grandparents had died before I was born, my maternal grandfather I rarely saw, besides he always struck me as “strange”, and my paternal grandmother quite frankly hated me. Jesus was never a part of my upbringing. In recent times however I sense the Lord trying to teach me deep spiritual truths through being a grandfather. This involves being humble enough to allow the Spirit to teach me through the “tiny tots” in my life. Such revelations however are as profound as they are simple; for the ways of the kingdom of God are always back to front (Matt 11:25).
A primary instincts in being with grandchildren is to play with them. The reason for this is transparent, play is fun, and it is delight-full. This might sound rather trivial, but the delight that is enjoyed in play reflects how the Wisdom of God experienced humanity at first creation; “then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov 8:30-31 ESV). Commenting on this text the great Catholic philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas said that the Holy Spirit “plays all the time, plays throughout the world.” The psalmist supports this when describing the grandeur of God’s creation, “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” (Psalm 104:25-26 ESV). The delights of play take us to a place beyond where the rational mind can lead us.
In heaven there will be no more to “accomplish”, in this sense the essence of play is more eternal than work, even the work of ministry (Eph 4:12). Much of the labour or toil of everyday and church “work” comes from an underlying sense of effort in “getting things done”. But play is never a matter of what you are doing but of centring your whole being on who you are doing it with. Jesus’ delight was always in being with his Father; only after 30 years of mutual presence did he go on to do his Father’s works (John 5:34; 16:23). The experience of play is so profound that the notion of playing for a reward is contradictory; the rollicking joyful presence of others is enough (cf. Ps 16:3). If play has such deep dimensions why does the Church seem to oscillate between seriousness and frivolity? The answer is found in another grandchild encounter.
The Angry Page
It is commonly said that an integral part of the pleasure of relating to grandchildren is you can always “hand them back” to mum and dad. Grandparents have no ultimate responsibility for their grandkids. There is a foundational truth here, but one that is not immediately obvious. Let me try to use an illustration to make the point.
Last week I went up to see Donna who was minding our daughter’s twin three year olds that day. When I got there she suggested to the kids that grandpa read their favourite picture story book. This was sooo exciting. The book is about a group of circus animals who escape from their owner. When I started to open the book the dynamic duo cried out in unison, “Not the angry page! Not the angry page!” The “angry page” has a drawing of a big fat moustachioed man with a red face and burning eyes who is visibly enraged at the loss of his animals. They were thrilled with the rest of the story; despite having heard it over and over. There is something eternal in the contrasting moods of this encounter. Anger destroys delight; the experience of rejection that rage imparts is totally incompatible with abiding in secure relational joy.
If we are honest the vast majority of believers suffer in this area. If there is a lack of enduring pleasure in our relationship with God it must be that deep down we believe that when the books are opened on the Last Day, to some degree or other, the report on our lives will be on God’s “angry page” (Rev 20:12). This may sound speculative and a denial of justification by faith but I see signs in me and others that my analysis is true.
As a young Christian I was deeply influenced by Proverbs 4:23; “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the issues of life.” In the Bible the “heart” is the well-spring of thinking, willing and feeling which must be protected from evil influences. Within the book of Proverbs this is sound advice a wise father gives to his maturing child (Prov 4:1ff.). In my life however I have observed the unhelpful way I apply this self-protection. I have become aware of watching myself watch my feelings in order to keep them in balance. This is a defensive initiative I have learned to make sure that the expression of my feelings does not draw the displeasure of others, and ultimately of God! All of us suffer from such social conditioning but their spiritual consequences are disastrous. When I am watching myself I faithlessly block out an awareness of the indwelling Christ (Eph 3:16-17). It is Jesus in me who is “anointed with the oil of joy more than anyone else” (Heb 1:9). Being aware of Jesus I can sense the delight of the Father in who Jesus is making me to be. This involves doing nothing.
The good news is that when Jesus died on the cross he took upon himself all that was justly written on the “angry page” of God the Judge (1 Pet 1:17; 2:24). Christ took the ultimate responsibility for our sinful thoughts and behaviours so that we might enjoy the sheer delights of our heavenly Father (Prov 3:12). When the Lord is disciplining us this is no sign of angry disapproval, but a sanctifying means to intensify an ever deeper playfulness in his presence (Heb 12:5-6).
The “book of life” is always open for us to read the writing of the one who loves us in all things (Eph 1:11). The pages of grand parenting suggest that many Christians are suffering from a spiritual “attachment disorder”. We are stuck in measuring spiritual maturity in terms of successful ministry or Bible knowledge whilst neglecting the purity of our union with Christ. The relational freedom we enjoy through Jesus with the heavenly Father is much more basic and child-like than anything we can ever measure (2 Cor 3:17). If the Lord grants us the humility to be taught through all the little people in our lives we will surely experience such heavenly insights for ourselves.
 You may not be a grandparent, but similar things apply to being a great uncle, great aunt etc.