The collection of books we know as the Old Testament ends with a very wistful image.
“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers,” Malachi writes about a prophet who will come.
Imagine the sense of lostness that a child abandoned by his or her father feels. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine. Whether the father actually leaves the family or merely allows his attention to be consumed by activity is pretty irrelevant. The child, with her nose pressed against the window or clinging to the promise to fly a kite or go for Hawaiian ice, has a deep sense of longing.
In Luke 1, when Zechariah is told what his son John will be doing, he is told that “he will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children.”
The voice right before Jesus, the voice of John, is going to be tapping fathers on their shoulders and pointing to those broken-hearted children and saying, “That’s where repentance starts.” God says, “Go take care of your kids. Go raise them. Go love them. And then they will understand what a father’s love is like, and maybe it will help them understand Me.”
It’s an interesting thing. For people who have found church irrelevant or unsatisfactory, the time when they are most like to reconsider is when they have children. Their attention turns to values, to trying to figure out how to raise kids who live for significance. The prophecy has a glimmer of fulfillment.
The challenge is that their own experiences with church leave a tension: “I know it’s the thing to do, but if it’s like it was when I was young, it’s the very thing not to do.”
And so we live, noses pressed to the window, wondering. If we could find the church where Jesus would go to church, would it be any different?