My 4-yr old son was playing with a forbidden set of toys this morning before I left the house. They are forbidden by his big brother because they are his personal property, his collection of toy Roman soldiers. There are figurines of Augustus Caesar—august and fierce with sword drawn—and a couple of centurions, armed to the teeth. Living in the North of England, we hear about Romans. The kids have hiked atop this big old wall Hadrian had his troops build some 1800 years ago to keep out those pesky Scots.
The little boy was at work crafting a battle scene. He is a scrappy fella, and nothing thrills him more than a rough wrestling match with Daddy. Though as sweet as he can be, there is violence in his bloodstream. Little boys are taught to be violent by various influences (like maybe the father-son wrestling matches), but the raw matter is already there, crying out of their veins and genes like Abel’s blood from East Eden ground.
While grabbing something from my wardrobe (not as cool as the one from Lewis-lore), I casually mentioned to my little boy, “You know, those guys are like the soldiers who beat up Jesus.”
(This is what happens when you get a dad who wrestles all the time with ethical and theological complexities too big for his head. He interrupts your play with loaded comments.)
He held the soldier in his hand. A flash of realization appeared in his enormous brown eyes, as if the thing in his hand was suddenly discovered to be dirty or contaminated. Then flashed a sense of justice.
“Well I would get those guys and kill them.”
It is always disturbing to hear a little kid speak with such rough words. But he was operating out of a sense of just indignation. He was like Peter in Gethsemane, hapless and confused, swinging a sword at someone’s ear.
“What’s crazy though,” I continued, “is that Jesus Himself could have killed those guys but he didn’t.” This struck harder than the earlier announcement that his toy was an embodiment of someone who may have beat up Jesus.
Alien. Incomprehensible. Jesus didn’t do anything? He didn’t wield His heaven light saber and take those bullies out?
My son was being confronted with one of the most perplexing wonders of history, that God Incarnate permitted men to have their way with Him. And echoing over the whole moment is the Lukan record of this prayer: “Father, forgive them…”.
“Did those guys become nice, then?”he asked, perhaps apprehending that kindness and mercy can actually wield as powerful effects as swords and light sabers.
“At least one of them did.” I told him about the centurion Mark mentions who confessed Jesus to be “Son of God” after seeing how He died.
I’m not sure what happened in his playtime after this brief father-son interaction. After the ritual little farewells, I left for a day of study.
Yeah, I just left. I left him there with the toy solider in His hand and one of the greatest mysteries of the universe banging around in his little head.
It was banging around in my head, too. Still not sure how to take in the restraint of the Son of God on Golgotha.
Who knows how that 4-yr old little soul will process the divine restraint at the Cross as he heads to preschool. But as far as his imagination goes, I guess he can now reenact battle scenes with at least one saved centurion when he gets home. If, that is, his brother doesn’t fight with him over his toys….