A parable is story +. It is more than the sum of its parts. It holds truth within it and this truth must be sought out. The following parable began life years ago during a weekend in Bournemouth. It began as a reflection on parenthood and has morphed into a meditation on God.
I am walking along the promenade in Bournemouth. There are sunbathers stretched on towels or sheltering under umbrellas whilst down on the shoreline people are paddling as the sea quietly laps at the edge of the beach. My attention is caught by a father and his little boy. They are building a sand castle. I stop to watch. The father is really enjoying himself. He’s on his hands and knees scooping up the sand, to dredge out a channel for a moat and is obviously lost in the joy of play.
Two other people stop beside me and start watching the antics of the dad and his son. They comment cynically on what the father is doing. ‘Look at that idiot’. ‘He’s a fool’. ‘He should leave it to the kid’. I hear what they say but I’m watching the child.
He is looking at his dad with an expression of pure delight. His dad is playing with him. His dad is enjoying his world. He doesn’t care about adult dignity. As far as he is concerned his dad is giving him all that he needs that day on a beach along the promenade in Bournemouth.
This began as a story about a dad and his son one summer’s day on the south coast of England. For me it has become a parable of God.
Here’s Paul writing to the Christians in Philippi:
Let the same mind be in you as in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself (or as it may also be put) gave himself away and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of reputation.(Phil 2:5-8).
And for me this God is like a father playing on the beach a few yards away from the promenade in Bournemouth.
A God who gives himself away: in both senses of that expression –
God gives all that he is; he holds nothing back; he empties himself in grace and love and
God gives himself away; here is infinite transparency; he discloses himself; no hiding but he leaves it to us to see what he is doing.
The God of Paul and the Abba God of Jesus is one who unashamedly gets down on his knees and playfully re-moulds the dust of life.
The God who gives away both restores and reveals. He restores what we have lost; that godly nature that emerged from the star dust of our evolution.
In doing so he reveals his other side; the side we often feel is not turned towards us. The dancing, laughing, sand-castle building side. It is almost as if we do not want it to be turned toward us just in case we may be caused to like it.
A stern, forbidding, care-less God we can cynically reject – a fun-loving, summer time God may be too attractive for words.
And what is most laughable is that this God introduces himself through the stern, forbidding care-less test on human inhumanity. It is from the cross of Christ we can hear the laughter of God and wonder what there is to laugh about.