The Lost Father
Abdulfattah Jandali ran a Mediterranean restaurant in California. He was a Syrian immigrant, balding and intelligent, with fierce eyes and round, wire-rimmed glasses. After coming to America, Jandali earned a PhD in economics. He got a job as a professor at the University of Michigan. He began dating a woman named Joanne, and she became pregnant. But despite his brilliance, Jandali was a flawed and restless man. So with Joanne still pregnant, he abandoned both his family and his career. The baby boy in Joanne’s womb was given up for adoption.
Jandali later reunited with Joanne, they were married (briefly), and the couple had a daughter. But when the child was young, Jandali once again grew restless. He left and never returned. The baby girl grew up to be a famous novelist named Mona Simpson. And as an adult, she decided to seek out her long-lost father. What was he like? she wondered.
Why did he leave? Simpson hired a private investigator who tracked down Jandali, managing an eatery in California.
In a corner booth, Jandali told his daughter proudly of the places he had managed over the years — especially the Mediterranean one near San Jose. “That place was wonderful,” he remarked. “All of the successful technology people used to come there. Even Steve Jobs. He was a sweet guy and a big tipper!” Mona Simpson’s mouth fell open. What she never told her father was that Steve Jobs — the brilliant billionaire and founder of Apple Computers — was the baby Jandali had abandoned in the womb. And despite never knowing one another outside of those brief, oblivious encounters — the two men shared uncanny characteristics.1
- Fathers shape us even in their absence. We inherit things.
Like a sharp mind, a set of piercing eyes, and maybe even a taste for round-rimmed wire glasses. There is a mystery in what gets passed down. But in the case of Jobs and Jandali, the similarities do not stop there. Eerily, the founder of Apple Computers would also abandon his own firstborn child, Lisa, in the womb, at the exact same age Jandali had been when he left. What should we make of such surprising recapitulations? My claim is not that every aspect of our fate is predetermined by our past or our genetics.
We can make choices — with God’s help — to break certain cycles. But we are often more tied to others than we think as modern, Western individuals. In other words, as Jandali demonstrates:
- We are mysteriously bound up with our fallen forerunners.
An Apple with a Bite out of It
Steve Jobs’s famed logo was an apple with a bite missing. Yet there is another bitten fruit that figures prominently in Scripture. In Genesis 3, humans reject their calling to reflect God’s character in the garden they were called to “guard” (shamar; Genesis 2:15, author’s translation). This Hebrew word implies that though Eden was very good, it was not yet perfect. Hence the garden needed to be ordered and protected. That was Adam’s job.
Some scholars picture Eden like a beachhead of shalom (“peace”) carved out by God in a broader world that had already experienced a cosmic disruption. Why else would it need guarding? Why else would there be a talking Tempter who we now know as “that ancient serpent, who is the devil” (Revelation 20:2)? The first humans occupy a territory that is good but dangerous. And by falling for the serpent’s temptation, the head of humanity (Adam) is severed. Adam is cut off not just from the tree of life but from the future God desired for his people.2 Just as with Jandali, fallen fathers cast long shadows. Poisoned water flows downstream. The roots affect the branches. No one sins in a vacuum.
It didn’t have to be this way. Back in Genesis, humans could have done what they were commanded to do: guard the garden. After all, God gave them authority to “rule over” animals (Genesis 1:26). And here was one blaspheming the Creator (Genesis 3:4). Adam could have done precisely what young David did when he heard Goliath blaspheming Israel’s God. He took the fate of the people upon himself as their anointed head and soon-to-be king. What happened to David in that showdown with Goliath (in either failure or triumph) would carry over to the whole nation (1 Samuel 17:8–9). And in this case, as it was with Jesus, it was the Enemy’s head that was severed.
Recapping Fallen Adam
This brings me back to Jesus. We have seen how Jesus is connected to Adam as the true head of all humanity. But how can this be? Christ was born long after Adam. And Jesus had no children. Wouldn’t this make Him more like the elbow of the human race? How can Jesus be the true head of all humanity? It’s time to tackle more specifically the nature of our bound-togetherness.
Enter Irenaeus. Despite his strange-sounding name, Irenaeus was a Christian leader just after the time of the apostles (c. AD 180). Like Julian of Norwich, he was fascinated with the connection between Christ and Adam, and he saw this relationship as revealing something about how Jesus saves. Irenaeus noted that God made all humans in His image (Genesis 1:26). And despite sin, we retain that image even now. Since all persons have been stamped in God’s likeness, our bodies have intrinsic value regardless of race, gender, wealth, or shifting beauty standards.
But the image of God is not just something we have — like blue eyes or an intolerance to dairy. The image of God is also something we do.
- Humans are called to “image” (or reflect) God to those around us.
It is a vocation and not just a possession. For these reasons, the image of God is one of the most important concepts in the Bible. Why is each human life precious beyond price? The image of God. Why is stewardship of the environment a sign of Christian maturity? The image of God. Why must racism, abortion, and sexual immorality be treated together as offenses against the way of Jesus? The image of God.
The image of God also explains how Jesus can represent all humans even though He is just one man.
It’s because even Adam was made in the image of God’s Son — Jesus. The New Testament speaks of Christ as the true and perfect Image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Though we are flawed reflections of God’s character, Jesus is the perfect Image. As the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God preexisted Adam. Jesus is the eternal Son and the creative Word by which God made everything (John 1:1–3; John 1:14). To use the analogy of a copy machine (which sounds pretty sacred, right?), we might say Jesus is the original Image that is used as the pattern to create all subsequent images. Every human who has ever lived was patterned and printed in the image of the true human — Jesus Christ.
This matters for atonement. For Irenaeus, since even Adam was made in the image of Christ, that makes Jesus the true head of all humanity. This means that
at the deepest root of our expanding family tree — deeper than your grandparents, your weird uncle, or your ancient ancestors — there is not a fallen father. At the deepest root there is an obedient and perfect Son.
Jesus is the image in which all people were created, and the head of His body, the church (Colossians 1:15). Consider this rough diagram, which took thousands of research dollars to create, and an entire team of artists and geneticists.
The drawing shows that Christ is the founding head of the entire human race, like the unseen headwaters of a long and winding river. Because while Jesus was born near the middle of the human story, even Adam was patterned on the image of Christ.3 For this reason, Paul states that just as Adam’s disobedience led to the many being made sinners, so also through Christ’s obedience “the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
- Ultimately, Jesus isn’t just one disconnected human individual. Jesus is the rightful head of an interconnected human family.4
No matter what your past is like, this is good news. In the words of Nichole Nordeman, God’s love doesn’t “get hung up on the branches of family trees that bend and sometimes break under the weight of our painful histories. It’s too busy at the roots. Where the soil is soaked in mercy.”5 This is true because Jesus comes not just as one perfect individual in the middle of history, but as the new and true Adam who can empathize with our pain and suffering, while lifting us out of the dirty ditches where we’ve fallen.
1. Quotations cited from Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 257.
2. In Genesis, God makes clear that Adam and Eve were not created immortal. It is the tree of life (and their ability to continue eating from it) that makes it a possibility for them to “live forever” (Gen. 3:22).
3. See Joshua M. McNall, The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 78–79.
4. Irenaeus, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, trans. Armitage Robinson (New York: MacMillan, 1920), 22.
5. Nichole Nordeman, Love Story: The Hand That Holds Us from the Garden to the Gate (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2012), 50.
Excerpted with permission from How Jesus Saves by Joshua McNall, copyright Joshua M. McNall.
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We are mysteriously bound up with our fallen forerunners, no doubt. But, that's not the final story. As believers, our heritage links us directly to the obedient and perfect Son, our Messiah, Jesus. Mercy mercy mercy! Come share your thoughts on how Jesus saves. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily