Sitting at mass on Sunday, I felt a familiar tug. My daughter, Sofia, who was next to me, grabbed my arm and swiped it in front of her body from its resting position on my lap, as though she were shifting a heavy curtain from side to side. She nuzzled into my ribs and reached down at the hand she'd just moved and began playing with my fingers. On the other side, her sister, Claire, sensing that attention had gone out to someone else, quickly hopped up on my right knee. Our two-year-old, Benedict, who had been sitting somewhere on my wife, jumped off and gleefully ran down the kneeler, crashing into us all.
Moments like this, when my children demand my attention and love, make me think of how I ask for attention and love from my heavenly Father. It's easy to see a child's affectionate pleading—forceful, inelegant, humorous—as something beautiful, a reminder of how we used to be when we were purer and more innocent. We've all been children, and that experience informs our ideas of more mature, filial love for God.
Yet it's not as often that the inverse seems true: It's rarer to see evidence of God's fatherly responses in my own. After all, God isn't a father like I'm a father; he is the model Father and I'm trying desperately to keep up.
Nature isn't meant to be deficient
But nature isn't made to be deficient. Though it pales in comparison to the absolute, uncreated Truth, created nature wasn't intended to deceive or come up short. Nature is the expression of divine freedom and love, and as a result it seems fitting that it'd be the best that could have been done to reveal as much about God as possible. Even sin doesn't deform nature beyond this purpose; the Incarnation is God's everlasting stamp of approval on what he created.
That's a consolation to a father who is often distracted, or too busy to spend time doing what his children ask, but whose hard heart can be melted instantly with an adorable smile or giggle or demonstration of perseverance. Of course, God isn't distracted from us, but there must be something in my distraction and refocusing, in my capricious affections, that shows God's intended truth. Nature—even redeemed nature through Christ—is subject to imperfections, to progression, to development, to shifting focus and time and incompleteness. God alone is esse subsistens, "subsisting being," above nature. What's good about nature is what participates in God's existence, and what's not good about it is what can't or won't participate in that existence.
Even God's uncreated being contains this mystery. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus caritas est:
God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.
[...] God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love.
Put another way, perhaps a little awkwardly, God isn't distracted like me, but I'm distracted like him. Somehow. And always a bit unclear because of the mystery of my sin. Still, what good happens in spite of my shortcomings, because of my nature, isn't an accident, but a participation in God's life, and in his design for fatherhood.
Andrew M. Haines is editor and founder of Ethika Politika
, and co-founder and chief operating officer at Fiat Insight