What if God really does love us?
That’s a question posed by Peter Enns. It concerns one of my favorite parables in scripture, what most everyone probably recognizes as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Most times I’ve heard this taught, the younger son in the story is presented as just your average college kid who wants to do his own thing. Sort of a, “Sorry, Pops, but can I get that money now while I’m still young” kind of guy. Not disrespectful, really – the poor kid just really wants to stand on his own two feet, be his own man. That’s really not quite how his request would have been taken in that culture, though. Like Enns explains:
Long story short (you can read the full version anytime you want to), the younger of two sons demands that his father give him his inheritance right now. This move is majorly disrespectful, for a inheritance is given only when the father dies and also the older son is supposed to get his first. The younger son isn’t being a little forward. He’s leaping over his older brother and in effect saying to his father, “you are dead to me.”
Exactly. This isn’t just a kid who can’t wait to head off to school and sow some wild oats. He basically tells his father (and his brother) that they’re dead to him. His relationship with them is over from that point forward. This is a huge middle finger to his family – to the people who loved him and raised him. Someone might get the idea that he could not have left that house on an angrier, more selfish, more mean-spirited note, and I think that’s a fair interpretation. He might as well have spit in his father’s face.
And when he decides that life without his father’s money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, he concocts a plan to come home. And note – Luke doesn’t even necessarily say that this guy realized what a jerk he’d been. He just says that he “came to himself”, or “came to his senses”. In fact, from what he says next – “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!” – it maybe that his whole awakening here has more to do with food than repentance.
But even if that’s the case, the glorious point of the whole story is that it doesn’t matter. His father, as the article points out, doesn’t lean back in his recliner and gloat, doesn’t try and deliver some sort of lesson, doesn’t even sit back and wait for his son to walk down the driveway. As soon as he recognizes who’s coming, he runs to meet him.
And listen to the son’s speech that he’s been rehearsing the whole way home – “I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
What always amazes me here is that his father doesn’t even let him finish. Go back and read it, Luke 15:11-32. The son doesn’t even get the full speech out. His dad had heard enough – or, possibly, didn’t have to hear it in the first place. It didn’t matter. His lost son had come home.
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’
And according to Jesus, this is how our Father reacts when we repent. When we come home. That’s unbelievable love. It certainly had to be shocking to the people listening to Jesus’ teach. It should be just as shocking to us today. Here’s what Peter Enns has to say about it:
You get the feeling the father was pretty excited.
The father, obviously, represents God in this parable, but this isn’t a “get saved and go to heaven after you die” story. The son is, well, a son–already part of the family. In Jesus’ day, he was addressing his stubborn fellow Jewish countrymen, reminding them about the love of God and that it’s never too late to come home. When this and other stories were adapted for the Christian faith, that same point remained but with a broader audience.
The story isn’t about conversion to Christianity. It’s about God being on the look out for those in the family who have wandered off, and God simply can’t wait to welcome them home.
I read stories like this and I wonder, What if this is actually true? What if there is a God who is really like this? What if God can’t wait to have us around–even with the garbage we keep carrying around and our half hearted “I’m sorries?”
What if God is glad to see us?
And the much more threatening question, What difference would really believing all that make in how I look at, well, pretty much everything?
And, what would it look like if I loved the way God loved?
What if? Why is it so hard for me to accept that God loves me like that? Let’s not even get started on why it’s so hard for me to love other people like that. Go read the whole article. It says it much better than I can, especially at 3:00 AM.