[I suggest you read Part 1 if to benefit from Part 2]
An example of our theme from the animal world. I recall some years ago (late 90’s?) seeing the wild life documentary on television and being intrigued by it. Larry Kreider picked it up in his book on our subject (see Part 1). South African game rangers were concerned about the plight of the white rhino in Pilanesberg Park, N.W. Province. Some 39 of this endangered species (far more so in 2013!) had been found slaughtered in the park, presumably by poachers. However, on closer examination, it was discovered that all of the rhinos’ horns (worth a fortune on the black market) remained among the carcasses. So the game rangers tranquilized and electronically tagged the remaining rhinos. Hidden cameras were set up in strategic locations to record their movements.
The wardens were staggered to find that young bull elephants, contrary to their nature, were harassing the rhinos without provocation. These teenage elephants were chasing the rhinos for long distances, throwing objects at them and stomping them to death. Why?? Apparently 20 years previously Kruger Park, over-populated by elephants, transferred some of these to Pilanesberg. The elephants who were too large to transport were put down, including a significant number of mature bulls. As a result the teen bulls grew up without the influence and presence of mature males.
In order to solve the problem, park officials were forced to put down 5 of the most aggressive young bull elephants and import some older bulls into the reserve. The result? The younger aggressive bulls learned very quickly that they were no match for the mature bulls – the latter had by their very presence and maturity become the ‘fathers’ of the herd, and the teen bulls had learned to imitate them. In fact, the teenagers seemed to enjoy their relationship with their new mentors. And you’ve guessed it, there were no more rhino victims at Pilanesberg!
It’s a parable for God’s community, isn’t it? [Kreider in his book also points to the example of Eli and his sons, recorded in 1 Sam. 2:12ff]. When maturer believers (and you don’t have to be old to be a mature believer!) don’t assume the responsibility of gracious spiritual fatherhood and motherhood in the community, the Family suffers and is populated by spiritual orphans. I’ve seen it so many times, even this past week.
That is why my wife and I and our extended family have (for some years now) opted for organic house churches, where unconditional acceptance, intimacy and honesty are more easily cultivated – very difficult in many larger, traditional ‘churches.’ [you may want to refer to some of my earlier blogs which relate our journey]
For those who (like me) often feel inadequate as a spiritual parent, another example, this time from the life of author Henri Nouwen [I just love his books – they not only enrich me but somehow always de-stress me! My favourites include ‘In the House of the Lord’ and ‘In the Name of Jesus’]. Nouwen, who died in 1996, was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who left a highly acclaimed academic career to share his life (note!) with mentally disabled people as a pastor at l’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. Nouwen reflects on his journey to spiritual fatherhood in his ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son.’ In it he tells of his fascination with Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son in his father’s arms as the elder son looks on (Lk. 15:11-32). He often saw so much of himself in the elder son, and it grieved him. One day a very bold friend said to him, ‘Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father. You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right (haven’t we all!). The time has come to claim your true vocation – to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.’
Inspired and empowered by the Father’s unending and unconditional love, His gracious acceptance and affirmation, surely you and I will confidently rise up and answer the cry for spiritual fathers and mothers in our needy world today!