What does the fatherhood of God really signify? What does it mean to live as a child of God? How should the love of God influence my everyday life?
Many Christians grapple with these questions as I have, and do. George MacDonald, the 19th century clergyman and writer, wrestled with these questions himself. The themes of eternal Fatherhood, the perfect obedience of His Son, and the call of God upon us infuse all of his novels with a sense of the holy.
MacDonald’s stories are so much more than an evocative plot, vivid dialogue, or soul-stirring landscapes. His works are stories that stay with you, transcending mere words on paper. They seem to be almost breathing things with a life of their own.
I discovered George MacDonald in my teenage years after devouring all the writings of Michael Phillips. The list of Phillips’ works included edited versions of George MacDonald’s novels. I had saved them for last as they did not originally intrigue me. Thirsty for more fiction with spiritual depth, I ordered several books and dug in.
I knew immediately I had found a literary treasure.
As I worked my way through MacDonald’s novels, his books became beloved friends of mine. Now, as a mother of several young children, reading has become a luxury I have to fight to find time for. Yet the spirit of his works and their message has never left me. Whenever I am able to sit down to read his writings, it is like renewing a conversation with an old friend. We pick up where we left off, heart to heart.
This characteristic is due to the depth of MacDonald’s novels. Each follows the spiritual growth–or deterioration–of the characters, in the midst of an engaging narrative.
His insight into human nature, and the workings of God with that nature, is profound. Gems of eternal truth are woven into the prose of his stories, reflecting the light of the Son.
I am called to wonder and to reflect on a Being who is Love, holding the world and all of His children in His hands.
One of MacDonald’s lesser known novels, titled Heather and Snow (originally edited and republished as The Peasant Girl’s Dream), stirred my longing to behold the face of Jesus. The character Steenie, a childlike man with a pure faith, ached for a sight o’ the “bonny man”. Steenie often poignantly speaks of Jesus, the “bonny man”, just as in this quote:
“I’m thinkin’ I’ll see him tonight, for I’m sore holden doon and needin’ a sight o’ him. He’s sometimes a lang time comin’![ … ] It’s a bonny day, the day the bonny man lives in! The other day–the day the rest o’ ye bides in… that day’s too hot- and sometimes too cold. But the day he bides in is aye jist what a day should be! Ay, it’s that! It’s that!”
Whenever I pick up one of MacDonald’s novels off my shelf, “the bonny man” and His Father are the central thoughts on which the story turns.
The stories themselves have the timeless qualities of other literature we consider classics. Yet they even surpass them, prompting us to ponder questions of eternal significance.
They have caused me to consider: what is it the Father has called me personally to do, right now? What dross in me needs to be burned away by the all-consuming, refining fire of Love? How can I more fully live as Jesus’ hands and feet to the people around me?
The questions MacDonald’s books raise can’t be answered quickly or lightly.
His words haunt me and move me, years after reading them. For MacDonald was no spiritual lightweight. He was not content with believing what other men said about Jesus–he searched the Word of God to find out for himself. His conclusions cost him dearly, but his very heartbeat was to know the heart of God.
I must say I don’t perfectly agree with all of his thoughts. A few references in his books to the idea that salvation after death is possible have troubled me. But there is such enduring beauty, such timeless truth and such life altering love for the Lord in his writings that I could not part with them, as I focus on the pure gold within their pages. Only the writings in the Word of God are perfect and without fault. I do not read MacDonald’s writings as gospel; I read them as the thoughts of a man who loved God with all of his being, and I look for the beautiful kernels of truth to feed my own spirit upon. I keep in mind that MacDonald was a fellow pilgrim seeking the Light and Life of the world, Jesus himself. To walk alongside him in his novels is a growing experience.
Jesus himself used stories to reveal timeless, eternal truth to us.
Following after Jesus by taking on that medium of story, George MacDonald distinguished himself in modern times with his ability to create characters that seem to have once lived, and scenery that gleams before the mind’s eye through his descriptions.
MacDonald reminds us that all of life is a story.
A story that when lived true enters into the unseen realms where the Father and the Son live in perfect unity, and live out that life in us.
Heather and Snow concludes with a poem called “Love Is Home”. The title of this poem captures what MacDonald has to offer us, for his focal point is the eternal love of God and how that love changed the world through the gift of His only Son.
As I “bide a wee” here on this earth, I treasure spending time in the captivating Scotland of days past among the men and women who live upon the pages of MacDonald’s works. Through their spiritual journeys, I am able to see more clearly who my Father is, and who I am called to be as His child. They spur me on as I keep looking for the face, and listening for the voice, “o’ the bonny man”.
Faithful creator, heart-longed-for father,
Home of our heart-infolded brother,
Home to thee all thy glories gather—
All are thy love, and there is no other!
O Love-at-rest; we loves that roam—
Home unto thee, we are coming home!(George MacDonald in Heather and Snow)
Photography: JenniMarie Photography