Why He Came
Tony carefully placed another log on the fire and watched bright-yellow flames embrace and blacken the rough bark. He listened to the crackle and snap of burning wood and inhaled the rich, damp smell rising with the heat from the hearth.
Holding his hands in front of him, he felt a warm glow pressing against his fingers as the log ignited into a blaze of dancing, flickering flames.
“Does he really know what he’s getting into?” he asked, settling himself into the big beanbag resting beside Grandmother’s rocker. “Saying you’re God’s son is one thing. But living it is a different matter all together.”
The boy turned and looked up into the kind face of the one sitting beside him. “He seemed a little scared, Grandma. It was sort of like he wanted to be God’s son, but he was frightened at the same time. I guess I don’t blame him.”
The woman nodded as she rocked back and forth, her eyes not leaving the fire. “There are two kinds of Christians in this world, Tony,” she said softly. “Those who say they believe in God, and those who live like they do. It takes a certain brand of determination, a special type of person, to live a life based on a belief in God. It’s never easy.”
Tony sighed. “You’d think it would be. I mean, isn’t God stronger than the devil? And why is it so hard to obey what God says? I think about Adam and Eve, those workers who built the Tower of Babel, the people at the base of Noah’s ark when the floods came, the children of Israel–why didn’t they do what God said to do? It sure would have saved a whole bunch of problems.”
“God is stronger than the devil,” Grandmother urged. “But humans aren’t. We’re weak, frail, filled with pride–all the result of sin.” The woman looked down at her grandson. “But not everybody has given up trying to do things God’s way. Remember Noah, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and now Mary, Jesus’ mother? They didn’t give up. Come what may, they did what they knew in their hearts to be right.”
Tony thought for a moment. He could see Noah standing on the battered bow of his boat, ordering his sons to build an altar to the Lord. There was Moses lifting his shepherd’s rod high above the Red Sea, and Joshua leading his army around and around Jericho.
He remembered Elijah bringing the widow’s son back to life, and Mary, holding her little boy tightly in her arms, tears streaming down her face as she told him of his true heritage.
Then he thought of young Jesus, talking to the priests beside the gleaming temple in Jerusalem. Yes, there had always been someone willing to live what they believed, who obeyed the voice of God, even when no one else did.
Grandmother’s voice filtered into his thoughts. “As I said, it takes a very special kind of person to be a true child of God.”
Tony nodded slowly. Then he smiled. Grandmother was so wise. She probably knew everything there was to know about life. At least about those things that really mattered.
“How come you’re so smart, Grandma?” he sighed.
The woman raised her eyebrows and glanced down at her grandson. “Me? Smart?” She laughed softly. “Let’s just say I know the kinds of questions growing boys ask. After all, your father was your age once.”
Tony looked startled. “He was? Oh, yeah! I guess he was. Funny. I always figured he was Dad from the very beginning.”
Grandmother got up from her rocker and headed for the kitchen. “Dads are just little boys grown up. And if you’re lucky, as you are, they never forget what it was like to be little.”
The boy leaned his head against the beanbag and gazed into the fire. Would he remember what it was like to be little after he was all grown up? His mind wandered back to the scene beside the temple. He saw the young boy talking earnestly to the priests. An uncomfortable thought shadowed his reverie. Would the boy Jesus remember what it had been like to be God?
Dr. McFerren tapped the eraser end of his pencil against the smooth glass covering his broad oak desk. Kim sat across the room in his customary chair, watching the man intently.
The doctor spoke with some hesitancy. “I owe you an apology, Kim,” he said, searching for words. “The last time you were here, I was not as kind to you as I should have been. I sit here demanding answers from you, yet I refused to answer your question.”
Kim watched the man rise from his tall, overstuffed chair and walk to a nearby window. “You asked me if I believed in God. Well, I do. In a way. You see, God and I, we sort of had a falling out, so to speak. If you’re still interested, I’ll tell you about it.”
Kim nervously cleared his throat. “Dr. McFerren, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just–”
“It’s OK,” the doctor interrupted. “You have every right to ask me any question you want. Don’t feel bad about it. I should have been more professional and not acted as I did. Will you forgive me?”
Kim nodded, unsure of what to say. He was seeing a side of Dr. McFerren he’d never seen before. Here was the famous psychiatrist apologizing to a 13-year-old war orphan. Maybe the doctor wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
Kim felt himself relax. “I forgive you Dr. McFerren,” he said simply. “Thanks for asking.”
The doctor smiled and turned back to the window. He closed his eyes for a long moment, then spoke slowly, thoughtfully.
“When I was a little boy, I lived with my mama and daddy down a dirty street in a dirty town surrounded by dirty factories. Every day I’d see my daddy get up before the sun, eat a bite of breakfast (if we were lucky enough that day to have something in the cupboards to eat), kiss my mama goodbye, and head out looking for work.
“When he’d reach the sidewalk in front of our apartment building, he’d turn and wave up at me. ‘Take care of your mama, Billy,’ he’d call out in the cold morning air. ‘I be back before dark. You be a good boy, you hear?’
“I’d wave back to him and call, ‘Don’t you worry, Daddy. I take care of everything.’
“We attended church each week. The building was nothing to look at–paint peeling off the walls, hard flat-backed benches to sit on, a piano with a whole bunch of strings missing–but we worshiped God as best we could under the circumstances.
“I’d listen to the sermons, sing the songs, say my Bible verses, and try to ignore the rumbles in my tummy.
“God loves you,’ the preacher would shout, ‘and He’s a-watchin’ out for you.’ I’d think, If He loves me so much, why doesn’t He bring me some food to eat?
“My mama would always ask the blessing over what meals we had. I can hear her to this day. ‘0, Lord, for this bounty we are thankful. And if it pleases Thee, may we have some bounty tomorrow, too. Ay -MEN.'”
The doctor stood silent for a minute, letting visions of the past drift slowly through his mind.
“One day, my daddy said to me, ‘Billy, I have to go away for a little while. I got a job in a town south of here. But don’t you worry. I’ll be back before you even knows I’m gone.’
“He left early in the morning. I stood and waved at him. ‘You take care of mama,’ he called.
‘Don’t you worry, Daddy,’ I called back, ‘I’ll take care of everything. ‘ ”
The doctor’s hand pressed against the thick glass of the window. He continued speaking, his words becoming more and more strained.
“We got checks in the mail. Mama bought food. I got a brand new pair of shoes, even a bicycle. Not a new one, mind you, but like new. I thought to myself. God is lovin’ us real good.
“Then the checks stopped coming, and after a few weeks this letter arrived in our mailbox saying how there’d been an accident and my daddy . . . ”
Dr. McFerren’s shoulders sagged under the awful weight of memory. He turned and faced Kim. “They found a bus ticket in his pocket. He was going to come home that very day. Kim, my daddy was coming home to me.”
The doctor’s voice faltered. His eyes filled with unspeakable sorrow, then with a cold emotionless pain. Slowly he walked back to his chair and sat down. “So you see,” he said looking across the room at his patient, “as far as that young, black, ghetto boy with the new shoes was concerned, God had died, too. It seems we have a lot in common, you and me, doesn’t it?”
Kim sat motionless, staring at the doctor. He felt a familiar anger rising in his chest. What God could allow such sorrow? What eternal Being could create such a terrible world?
But then he remembered another little boy running along a dusty street. This child was God on earth–God’s very own son. He would feel pain, fear, sorrow, just like everyone else.
Kim remembered seeing a deep longing in the eyes of the boy in Jerusalem, a longing like the one he’d felt since the war. Only someone who has known the pain of losing can truly understand another person’s sorrow. Hadn’t Tony said the boy would someday be sacrificed by the very people he came to love? He would know what it was like to lose. He would experience a lifetime of sorrow and pain.
Realization swept over the boy. His eyes filled with wonder and amazement. “That’s why he came,” he whispered. “That’s why Jesus came!”
“What did you say, Kim?” Dr. McFerren glanced up from his desk. “Were you talking to me?”
The boy jumped to his feet. “Dr. McFerren, I think you need to know something, but I don’t know how to tell you just yet. I’d like to think about it for a while, then I’ll let you know what I find out, OK?”
The doctor was taken back by his patient’s sudden outburst. “Well, sure, Kim, whatever you want to do.”
The boy moved quickly toward the door. He stopped and turned to face the doctor. “We may be wrong, Dr. McFerren. I’ll let you know.”
The doctor studied the boy’s face. “I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say, Kim.”
After his patient had left, Dr. McFerren rose and walked slowly back to the window. Memories flowed once again through his tired mind. In the distance he could see his father standing on the sidewalk in front of the old apartment building. Lifting his hand to the glass, the doctor spoke in the stillness. “Don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll take care of everything. ”
The people on the street below paid no attention to the face in the window. Everyone was too busy with sorrows of his own.