Over a meal, my daughter wondered what God looked like. She figures we’ll find out when we get to heaven.
*PSA for Sunday School Teachers: do not threaten the gospel on children. As in, ask Jesus into your heart otherwise HELL.*
If all we speak of the good news is a salvation to heaven, children, who are far from pondering death, cannot grasp the hope that is within their reach in the present.
Pete Rollins says, the Christian question is not whether there is life after death, but whether there is life before death. Similarly, my daughter thinks she won’t see the face of God until heaven. Nothing can be further from the truth. I am reminded of something I posted on facebook after meeting my friend’s newborn son, shortly after he was confirmed with a Down Syndrome diagnosis:
I have solid Scriptural evidence to support my statement. In Matthew 25, Jesus says when we feed the hungry, it is as if we are feeding Jesus himself, the incarnation of God. God is present in the margins.
Holding baby Russell is a taste of the Christian hope. In addition to the heavenly scent that emanates from him, a mixture of sweet baby milk breath and Johnson & Johnson soap, his slanted almond eyes and the extra space separating his big toe from the others bear witness to his frail vulnerability. I think we are often drawn to the innocence of babies precisely because of their helplessness. They require tender care for their every need, and we are most deeply satisfied when we give of ourselves. The circle of life is one of receiving and giving of love; back and forth, to and from. A baby coo or a lopsided sleepy grin is capable of melting the hardest of hearts. Russell’s special needs only serve to amplify the exchange of love, drawing those around him to give more of themselves. It is the essence of the gospel.
The truth is, those who are visibly poor, physically ill, and babies with Downs Syndrome bring the face of God to the forefront of our attention. They blatantly demand we encounter what blogger Glennon Melton has coined, “the brutiful life”. The harsh realities facing the future of baby Russell somehow doesn’t diminish the solid hope he promises through his riveting, soulful eyes. It is both brutal and beautiful.
Photo provided by baby Russell’s Mom*
Some of us are more reserved with our brutiful lives, and it takes extra work to excavate the face of God. We hold our secret pains within us until they threaten to tear us apart from the inside out. We pretend everything is okay for so long and so often we have almost believed it ourselves. We don’t ask, and we don’t tell. We live in the shadows of our own lives, watching it play out as a disconnected reality, avoiding all costs with confronting the ghosts of our brokenness. We hide from the face of God.
I am convinced the Christian hope lies in life before death, given to us through pockets of love like the moment I held baby Russell, who brings to surface the needs of humanity – to cry, laugh, sleep; to be fed, held, cared for, and loved. The world may regard the extra chromosome as a deficit, a falling short of humanity. But the gospel resides within him, the face of God is unmistakable, to show us all how to live more fully.
*Please be assured my friend has given me permission to write publicly about her son here in this space.