By Dan Schaeffer
It started with a phone call.
“Hello Danny, this is your Aunt Sue. I just thought you would want to know that your father died. His obituary was in the paper. I’ll send you a copy if you’d like.”
If this sounds like a cold way to tell someone that their father just died, it really wasn’t. Actually, he was my father by adoption. My biological father and my second father had both left the scene years earlier. When I was eleven years old my mother married Dr. Schaeffer and he adopted me. I didn’t really want to be adopted, and have my name changed yet again, but I reluctantly agreed to it. I knew that it wasn’t love that prompted his adoption of me. His interaction with me was completely superficial and only when necessary. He adopted me because he didn’t want to have children in his family that didn’t have his last name—it might prove embarrassing or hard to explain.
As you can tell, there wasn’t much intimacy between Dr. Schaeffer and myself. We hadn’t communicated in over 20 years; our last contact being a trip he took me on which turned into a question and answer time about my mother. He was a decent enough fellow, but never more than cordial, and could be abusively cruel in his actions and words. When he and my mother eventually divorced, he also left the scene never to return.
Several days later I received the promised obituary in the mail. It gave the usual information, and then at the very end it listed his surviving family. His latest wife was named, as was her son and his biological children from his first marriage. Neither my sisters, nor myself were even mentioned. Once again my existence had been degraded and ignored, but this time I got angry, genuinely angry, which is rare for me. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t care about me, or want anything to do with me. We had been acquaintances more than anything else in those years. But for some reason it really bothered me that I wasn’t even mentioned. In 20 years he had erased the very memory of me so that as far as his new family knew, I never existed.
CREATED IN THE MIND OF GOD
Not long after this I remember taking a walk through the regional park near our suburban home where I often went to pray and found myself complaining to God. “What’s wrong with me Lord? Nobody wanted me. Nobody even wanted to claim me.” I felt at the moment like an illegitimate child. This slight affected me: It made me feel insignificant, worthless, and unwanted. But it also did something I hadn't expected. It began me thinking about my real origins.
At first I thought only about my physical entrance into this world, and the succeeding years of fathers jumping into and then out of my life. It was a little depressing. I remember as a young man feeling insignificant and unwanted. But during this walk the Lord reminded me of Psalm 139. And I began to think about creation. Not the creation account in Genesis, but one that happened prior to that. I began to wonder about the moment of my creation, before I was ever born. Not the moment of my earthly conception or the date of my actual physical birth, but the moment I was created in the eternal mind of God.
David refers to this mystery when he writes in Psalm 139:15,16,
“My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (NASB).
One of the amazing truths I realized at that moment was that I was not ultimately my mother’s idea, or my father’s idea. Before either of them had ever been born, before Adam and Eve had ever been created, I had been created—in the mind of God.
I can look in old albums and find pictures of what I looked like as a child. Most of us can. But what we “looked like” before that in the mind of God is a secret. Yet, we existed in the mind of God. You weren’t just an idea of God; you were a perfectly formed idea. From Psalms we learn that you and I weren’t haphazardly thrown together, we were “skillfully wrought”(v.15). From the context of the passage, this takes in more than simply our physical bodies. God created our “inmost parts,” denoting the mind, our soul, our desires, affections, and passions (v.13). All our days were ordained “when as yet there was not one of them.” (v.16). All that Dan Schaeffer would ever be was decided upon before my birth.
When I think of all the intelligence it takes to simply make a spaceship that can reach the moon, or sophisticated computers that can process vast amounts of information in nanoseconds, I am in awe of my own creation. It took far more intelligence and power to put Dan Schaeffer together than an inanimate spaceship or a computer. It was not only my physical body that was created, but my mind, emotions, personality, family, and destiny to name a few.
Like David, we were made in secret. I was made. My personal creation. God made me. He skillfully and perfectly put together an entire life complete with thoughts, a mind, a will, a future body, eye type, hair color, parents, and family lineage.
God did not have to make me. And that is one of the most amazing and humbling discoveries I’d ever made. This world would have gotten along quite nicely without me. God would have gotten along quite nicely without me. There was nothing I would ever add to God’s glory, nothing in Him that was empty that I would fill, no need in Him I would meet.
God is perfect, He knows no need. I had always been aware of this truth doctrinally and theologically, I had enjoyed six years of formal theological training. But now the thought is not academic, it is intensely personal. The understanding of my creation gave way gradually to an even greater thought, a question really that began to emerge. Why? It is not the academic question of why did God choose to create mankind, but a more personal one: why did He decide to create Dan Schaeffer? It has to do with love.
OBJECTS OF HIS AFFECTION
God wasn’t trying to fill a quota when He created me. He wasn’t just trying to make enough white Anglo Saxon males to go around. Furthermore, He didn’t create me by chance. I didn’t appear by some divine accident. I appeared by divine intention.
And this thought fills me with joy. And it tells me something I have heard over and over again, but somehow means more this time. God loves me. He really, really does. And He loves you too. He didn’t start loving you or I when Jesus came to earth, or even when we believed, but before then, way before then. You and I were created out of, and for, His love. This means God created us in order to love us and for us to respond to His love, and part of that response is gratefulness for the unique life he granted us.
God reminded the prophet Jeremiah of the nature of His love for His people in Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV). “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Everlasting love begins before we were born into this world, and extends back to the moment of our creation in His mind.
As a young man I was always trying to please my earthly father, Dr. Schaeffer. Good grades were extremely important to this highly intelligent and educated man. My grades in High School were slightly above average, but nothing stellar. He rarely helped me with my homework, showing little interest in anything except the final product. However, if I brought home a C or below, one look said it all. I was a disappointment. He was very encouraging of other young men who had become Rhodes Scholars, doing everything he could, including financial assistance to help them on their way. His eyes lit up when he spoke about them. The point wasn’t lost on me.
I did try very hard to please him as it is in my nature to do so. I like to please people and meet someone’s expectations if possible. But I soon recognized that the bar he set would always be too high for me. He valued things I simply could not accomplish, no matter how hard I tried. I was I’m sure, in many ways, a disappointment to him.
In contrast, when my heavenly Father called me to come to Him, He called me to come just as I was. This seemed so ironic. Here was the perfect God, the only Holy One in the universe, the only One who was totally perfect in every way willing to accept me and love me and adopt me with all my blemishes and weaknesses in His plain sight. He could see far more of my failures and sin than Dr. Schaeffer ever could, and His standard of righteousness was infinitely higher than Dr. Schaeffer’s, yet it was He who offered me unconditional love, He who was willing to welcome me with open arms. And once again, the point wasn’t lost on me. He asked only love and faith from me and that only after He had already adopted me into His family, and given me an eternal inheritance. I may not have been a Rhodes Scholar, but I wasn’t stupid either.
As hard as I tried, I never got the sense that Dr. Schaeffer loved me for trying to please him. To be sure, I think he appreciated the effort, but I soon learned that he was my father primarily because he happened to marry my mother. My sisters and I were simply the requisite baggage that came with the marriage, and he would try to make the best of it. After all, if he treated us better, it might make his marriage to my mother better. It was difficult, then, to interpret any of his kindness as truly genuine.
But God does not love me because I am someone’s son or daughter. He loves me because He made me in His image, and despite how I have marred that image, He still loves what He has made. God has no ulterior motives in His love. I was and am, despite my best intentions, often more of an embarrassment than an asset. Yet, in my ugliest moments, He offered me grace and reminded me that His love for me had been demonstrated on the cross.
Dr. Schaeffer was intolerant of weaknesses in people, especially those that he didn’t share. When my mom, or myself, or my sisters displayed any kind of normal human weaknesses, we were not greeted with mercy, and understanding, but with coldness and emotional distance. We would have to earn our way back into his favor, even though that favor was a fleeting thing at best.
How different my God. My heavenly Father whose perfect nature and pure holiness hate the smallest of sins, endured not only the shame of my sin, but endured my sin upon Him on the cross. This is what Paul was saying when he wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB). My sin had created an eternal distance between my heavenly Father and myself, yet to my eternal gratitude, He did not require me to earn my way back into his favor.
Instead, He brought me back into His favor at a cost so great I still can’t comprehend it. He determined to seek out this erring, prone to wander sheep named Dan Schaeffer and lead me back to Him with grace. And on that incredible day when His grace finally led me to salvation, He not only adopted me into His family with all the rights and privileges that entails eternally, but He actually called me His son. I, whom none of my human fathers wanted, was adopted by the God of the universe, and nothing in this world can ever change that. Long after my human name has been forgotten, I will proudly bear His name, a son of the Most High God. And that is the new, eternal identity of Dan Schaeffer. I am a son of the Most High God.
We can spend so much time trying to make people love us, trying to be worthy of love. We want to be loved. We need to be loved. But so often, we don’t really feel loved. We don’t feel lovable. We feel that to be loved we need to produce, to accomplish, to satisfy others, including God. If we can first live up to expectations, then we can be loved. Then we can deserve His love.
Yet, before we ever had an opportunity to do one bad thing, or one good thing, we were loved. In a moment, millions of years perhaps before creation would ever be accomplished and Genesis written, we had been loved into existence. All that was left was to schedule our earthly appearance.
Whether you were born a crack baby, or an orphan. Whether you were considered an “accident” or a “surprise.” Whether you were born into a wonderful loving family environment, or one in which you were constantly degraded at every turn. Whether you have been told you were useless, worthless, and a waste of skin, or that you were the object of precious parental love—you were loved into existence. Just think about that. Let that amazing thought settle slowly into your mind.
Others may not appreciate you or value you. You may have grown discouraged, and like Job, wonder why you were even born. In these moments, I encourage you to reflect upon your amazing origins. Imagine the delight in God’s heart at the moment His omnipotent power and omniscient wisdom combined to create you.
Human parents, despite their best intentions, can make us feel unwanted, or unimportant. There are many events in life that can conspire to make us question our own significance. But if the God of the universe concentrated His perfect power and knowledge on your creation—you are special in a way that no experience or person can demean. This is a truth we need to focus on, especially when things on earth seem to indicate just the opposite.
You weren’t your parent’s idea, or anyone else’s, you were God’s. Whatever circumstances led to your earthly appearance, you were no accident. If you really want to know what your roots are, look no further. However you may fail Him, however you may stumble, if you are in Christ, you have been, and always will be, the object of His affection. It’s time to celebrate the fact that we were loved into existence.