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Fully aware of the gifts He is capable of bestowing, the Creator devised a process best suited to enable creation to know and benefit from a relationship with God, for this is the greatest gift that can be given.
Stated in terms of the logical relationship between the Creator and the created, the motive underlying this process exclusively concerns itself with how best to bestow bounties that will redound to the benefit of that which is created.
Yet, for a being to appreciate fully and meaningfully this gift, its value must be understood and freely desired and accepted. Otherwise, that which is created would necessarily endure in a static condition, unable to mature and grow of its own volition. We would not possess the tools necessary to progress in that knowledge.
This necessity of free will as a part of our enlightenment is a key to every other feature of the educational process the Creator has devised.
For the Creator to be known in any significant manner, that knowledge must be acquired by effort — because true learning, like authentic love, is not a relationship that can be coerced or imposed, nor can it remain static. Hence in Baha’u’llah’s “The Hidden Words” we find this profound axiomatic statement about this divine relationship between humans and the Creator: “Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.”
In this description of the sort of love the Creator wishes for us to attain, we discern a relationship that surpasses mere affection. This mutuality of appreciation derives from a conjoint recognition of the worth of the beloved.
Like a perfect parent, the Creator loves us unconditionally. But like a wise parent, the Creator continually tries to assist us in developing the capacity to perceive the nature of the Creator, to become aware of the worthiness of the nature of the Creator, and subsequently to desire nearness to the Creator. Obviously this nearness is not a physical presence, but a realization of the endless gifts of knowledge and love the Creator wishes to bestow, and a progressively more intense and encompassing desire on our part to emulate those qualities and develop those faculties with which the Creator has endowed us. In this manner we can become trained in the art of expressing spirituality in daily actions and dramatic forms.
Without a doubt, the best analogous, comparative human motive capable of providing us with some glimpse into the Creator’s love and altruistic desire to be known is the human desire to have children.
For while there can most certainly be any number of selfish motives for having children, also underlying this inherent human instinct a more lofty aspiration exists largely beyond our conscious knowledge. If for some reason a couple is unable to have children, they will sometimes spend incalculable amounts of time and money on medical procedures. If these do not work, a couple may then resort to adoption. And for what purpose? What are the less obvious sources of this drive within us?
Clearly we have some inherent biological and psychological need to bring forth progeny, and this need transcends the more mundane urges of perpetuating ourselves or our family name. Clearly no single answer to this deep mystery, this huri, will suffice. But certainly among the most potent urges compelling this desire is the wish to bestow unconditional love on other beings capable, in time, of understanding, appreciating, and reciprocating that love of their own free will.
Another motive at work in our drive to have children may be our desire to participate in the amazing process of bringing into existence a being capable of self-consciousness and autonomous development, of becoming a noble creation — a being that can benefit from all that we find inherently joyous to bestow, whether it is pure affection, education and enlightenment, or a thousand other little-noticed gifts we may never fully understand.
Lurking in the recesses of our thoughts may also be an unconscious awareness that the life we are setting in motion, together with the love we bestow to foster the development and progress of that life, will help sustain an ongoing chain of love that will reach far beyond the present moment and far beyond one or two souls.
But we don’t really need to understand this desire. We accede to it. We enjoy it for what it is, possibly because we are, as the scriptures assert, made in God’s image. After all, what other task or undertaking is more time-consuming, more arduous, more subtle and difficult to do well, than trying to be a good parent? We read books about how to do it. We listen to lectures and classes about it. We become frustrated, frightened, and vulnerable. As the saying goes, we have given a ransom to fate.
Our lives can be going along swimmingly in every other respect — we may have a good job, some leisure time, fulfilling relationships, the necessities of life — but let one thing happen to a child of ours, and our hearts are at the mercy of the outcome. Or stated in terms of a larger perspective, we may find it difficult to be much happier than our unhappiest child (or grandchild).
Perhaps my favorite line of all about parenting comes from the movie “Parenthood,” an essential source of solace and wisdom for all parents living in the postmodern world. Frank Buckman, the father/grandfather figure played by the late Jason Robards, consults with his grown son (Steve Martin) about what to do with his prodigal son who, once again, has returned home in financial and legal trouble. Attempting to explain why he still feels obliged to try yet again to help this recalcitrant one, he says to his older and ostensibly well-adjusted son, “You don’t understand. It’s never over. You don’t get to dive into the end zone, spike the ball, and do your little victory dance. It never stops!”
RELATED: Praying for Our Parents
In a well-known poem by Robert E. Hayden called “Those Winter Sundays,” a grown son, reflecting on his own father now that he himself is going through the love and pain of parenting, says plaintively about his own lack of appreciation for all his father went through in trying to bestow love on him, “What did I know? What did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Indeed, parental love is so often austere, so often a lonely and thankless outpost, so often filled with grief or regret, or most difficult of all, so often met with ingratitude.
Yet most of us persist in striving to participate in this most serious of all jobs — to bring forth new life and to attend to that life as if our own life depends on doing it well, because somehow it does. Yes, we do have a choice in this. We are never forced to be parents. There is no longer much social pressure to be a parent. But in spite of the pain and the responsibility and the vulnerability it imposes on us, this one act links us more closely to the motive in the mind of God the Creator than possibly anything else we can do or experience.
This series of essays is adapted from John Hatcher’s book The Face of God Among Us, with the permission of the author and the publisher. To purchase the entire book, please click here.