When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 4.
I think if you talk with my kids they would tell you that I’m something of a cream puff. I’m ashamed to say that, at one time, two of my kids were afraid of me. I had a volcanic temper and I was harsh. I loved them fully, but I didn’t show it lovingly. No, I wasn’t abusive but neither was I very kind. In the last few years, I’ve worked to adjust my behavior, moving more into a listening role and managing my temper. When I turned over my life to God, my attitude changed. The things that used to bother me don’t really bother me anymore, and new things don’t really bother me much at all.
It’s changed to the extent that I think of myself as something of a pushover. Like I said, cream puff. My oldest kid would tell you that I’m much easier on the youngest than I ever was with her; that’s true. I learned that every battle isn’t worth fighting anymore; as long as principles aren’t in danger, most battles just aren’t worth all the stress. Empowering kids to make choices and learn from them is a better way. It’s what God does for us, and He’s a wise father, so I finally got on board the clue bus and figured that it must be the right thing to do. I know God isn’t a cream puff and He isn’t some wuss. Instead, He’s the ideal role model. A better man would have learned this long ago.
The biblegateway.com reference that I use in researching these verses entitles this section of Ecclesiastes “stand in awe of God.” If you remember, the last few days have talked about being reverent in front of God, and how we should watch our words and take them seriously. In the vein of standing in awe of God, we’re also well-advised to do what we say we’re going to do and be quick about it! When I read that, my mind immediately thinks of God as that stern father, the one who could think that children should be seen and not heard. God takes our vows seriously, the big ones and the small ones. I’ve broken many vows from the small promises to play games with the kids when they were little to the major vows of fidelity to my wife. Now that I’m older, I see how I should have kept all of them, the big and little alike. God could hammer me if He wanted to, and today’s verse drives that point home: God doesn’t tolerate the words of fools.
That’s part of my hang-up: I’m stuck on the image of God being a stern father. I feel like He could be the kind of father who sternly, firmly takes no pleasure in the words of fools like me. For all those vows I’ve broken, I’m stuck on this image of God being a father, not a dad. Of Him rebuking me for all the things my guilty heart knows I’ve done wrong, sending me off to bed without dinner, telling me to sit down and shut up. This God is the Father-God of Shaker roots, of my stern German Lutheran forbears. He doesn’t seem very loving even though He seems pious and just. I’m reading the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, and this God fits quite well in the picture I get from reading Moses’ words. He expects us to do what we say without complaining.
And yet that isn’t the God I know; the image contradicts the reality I see, taste and touch. It’s not the one Jesus knew either. He was in complete and total union with God as Son, Father and Spirit, three in one at all times. He embraced and loved God’s pure fatherly power, yet when the chips were down he called God the Father “Abba.” In Hebrew, that means “Daddy.” God the Son thought so intimately, personally and adoringly of God the Father to correctly call Him “Daddy.” God the Son knew that His Daddy took all vows, all holiness seriously and yet He still knew Him as someone personal to whom you or I could easily relate. I stopped calling my own father Daddy sometime in the middle of elementary school; he was always just Dad to me afterwards. Only one of my three kids still calls me ‘daddy.’ Another doesn’t; I’m just “Dad.” And another sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t; it depends on the mood. I like it when the kids call me whatever they will, but I know I’m especially dear if they call me “daddy.” God the Son called His Father Daddy too, knowing He would expect the Son to keep His words but gently encouraging Him to do so instead of hammering Him with fists of justice.
Such things give me a greater appreciation of God. Sure, I’m in awe of Him when I consider that phenomenal power He has. That massive power supports the true side of God that is the stern Father, the one possessing that sometimes harsh justice. But to tell you the truth, because I’m kind of a softy, I am more in awe of Him when I consider how He sets aside that power and miraculously shows Himself through the simple things. I saw God today in the picture of my friend’s newborn daughter, and the determination of the overweight man on the treadmill who was exercising to change his life. I saw my Daddy-God in the blue sky looking through the peach tree outside my window, and in the laugh of my son and daughter. I felt His calming presence when I prayed to tell Him what was on my heart, and how I’m sorry for the rotten things I thought about yesterday, and I felt Him relaxing with us while my wife, son and I watched a movie last night. God is shown in the magnificence of this world; it reflects His awesome nature, yet He is found in the simpler things, too, which also show Him as He is.
These days I’m closer to being a ‘granddaddy’ than I am to being a young daddy. I don’t know what those unknown grandchildren will call me, but I’m sure it will be something memorable, maybe even appropriate. I hope they see the side of me that stands up for what I believe and the people I love; I hope they know that even I have principles and hold certain things to be unassailable. Even more, though, I hope they see me as somebody they can love and want to be around, someone who will keep their word and vows to them. I hope they love me as a man who has their back, and as someone who loves them with the simple care of a daddy to a young girl or boy.