10/14/2007 19:48

Their Sons Not Sparing

"And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in ..."

While I was pruning the shrubbery in front of my house, the lines of that famous hymn began to run through my mind. And I thought, "We're missing something important if we emphasize that idea too much."

There are are in history stories of fathers with wealth and power, kings or criminals (too often there is little difference), who have sent less favored sons to their deaths. That makes that point that sending a son to die is not nearly so incomprehensible as those lines suggest, but we don't need to look to the extraordinary for examples of such willingness.

Plenty of very ordinary human fathers have sent their sons to die. Often they send their sons to die for rather ignoble causes: to kill other fathers' sons, to increase the stature of a nation, or even that of a capital-stock company.

People may be more willing to send other people's sons than their own, and yet they appear to be sufficiently content to send even their own sons to die.

When national leaders have determined on a course of war -- civil war, world war, foreign war, it doesn't seem to matter a great deal -- the typical strategy is to define the war as a noble cause. Why? Apparently fathers are more willing to send their sons to die for a noble cause than otherwise. Nobility seems to provide some excuse for their willingness.

The fact that any excuse is needed to justify an action so well attested in human life suggests that deep down we already know that there is no excuse for what we are really doing. Yet people have accepted these excuses for as long as we have history to testify about it. Under such pretences, many fathers have sent untold numbers of sons to die.

Just sending a son to die is not sufficiently unique that we should be in awe.

What if we were doing what we pretend? If the cause were truly as noble as we let ourselves be told it is, would fathers still send their sons to die?

If they would, how can God seem so inexplicable as stated in Stuart Hine's hymn?

What is inexplicable to us, most of the time, is not so much that God would send his son. Rather, what is inexplicable is that God would consider us to be a noble cause.

We know that God would not undertake an ignoble cause. We know that Jesus refused to be a party to killing other fathers' sons or adding to the glory of a nation. Yet he did come, and he did die, and what was the excuse that justified that mission?

There is no explanation unless we are a noble cause. That is what is so hard to take in.