Viking Fatherhood

This summer, I took the girls to the Warren Summer Series for kids, reduced-price movies returnedunnamed to the big screen.  One week’s offering was How to Train Your Dragon.

I’ve seen this movie many times; it’s one of my favorites.

There are several points that routinely bring tears to my eyes, but this time, for whatever reason, I was especially stricken.

After it is revealed that Hiccup is not the dragon fighter, but instead in his father’s, eyes, a traitor, Stoick condemns him and pronounces that he is not his son.  I can think of no crueler words a father could utter; perhaps than any could speak.

Later, as Hiccup prepares to ride to rescue the Vikings, Stoick says how proud he is, both of Hiccup in what he does, and as his son.  And finally, there is the moving scene where he, believing Hiccup is dead, expresses true mourning and regret.

Of course, the movie can’t end there.  Apparently full restoration happens when Hiccup awakes.  Twice he has been told that his problem is, and his mentor and his father both gesture to all of him, all of him.  In the restoration, he is told that what the community has always needed was more, and again the gesture, of him, all of him.

What has always resonated with me are the words of blessing, the words of praise.  To have a father proclaim his pleasure and his pride in his son.  I’ve always felt tears, tears of desire, tears of regret.

Yet this time, sitting in a room with so many others, I wept openly.  At first, I couldn’t name why.  Yet as I wept in the movie theater, my thoughts, my spirit, centered in clarity.

The pain I felt wasn’t just the desire and regret of wishing to hear those words, both from my earthly and heavenly Father.

And I realized that it is the movie itself, as so many, which perhaps both feeds my desire and feeds the lie of how to attain it.

Hiccup “wins” his father’s affection through what he does; the people come to acclaim him because he’s a hero.  The despair I’ve always felt is precisely this:  I have no heroism; I have nothing great to offer.  All I have is me. So I cannot win that touching scene where the father gives the benediction.

And it wasn’t until today, weeping in the theater, that I realized how I’d imported that theologically.  I don’t mean the obvious, surface level, that I have to win God’s affection.  Instead, there has been a far deeper problem, a problem of Christology, soteriology, eschatology.

My problem has been in misreading passages about Christ, sayings of Christ, and truths about Christ.  At Jesus’ baptism, the Father proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  I tend to think of the active righteousness of the Son, of His perfect adherence to the Law, as somehow behind this declaration.  After all, it is His perfect obedience that underlies His standing in our place for our sins.

I’d always thought of that active righteousness as somehow “won,” as something that He won and so we win with Him.

Yet Christ’s righteousness is not merit; He does not “win” the Father’s affection.  He has been in Triune, perfect communion of love before the foundation of the world.  The Father’s affection is based not on anything done, but upon identity in eternal communion.  The mystery is far greater-it is not a legal exchange in which we get what Christ did.  We get who Christ is.  We get the status of sons and daughters of the king, the pleasure of the Father not because of what we do, certainly, but not even because of Christ’s work.  We get the Father’s pleasure because the Father is pleased; we get His love because He loves.

So the lie which causes me such grief is that the Father loves without limit.  As His son, won by Him in Christ, He loves me as He loves the Son, in fullness, in union, a partaker of the divine nature.  Not only do I not have to merit that love, I don’t have to think of that love as based on what Christ did.  That love is as true for me as it is for Jesus, based only upon the Father’s adoption, an adoption which I cannot win and so cannot lose, an adoption to a sonship that entails me a joint heir, heir because of who I am in Christ because of who He is.

I don’t know that I can believe such.  I know I can’t.  At best, I can stand, or kneel, or lie in wonder and weep, weep rightly that the longing of my thirsty soul will be slated-has begun to be and will fully be at the fulfillment.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen.

Todd Wedel