I just can’t get over God. His unstoppable, relentless, extravagant love…it astounds me. It undoes me. Nothing in human experience compares to such audacious, undeterred devotion.
Today, I’ve been reading the story of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15). Actually, I think we should call it the story of the “gracious father,” because really, it’s the dad’s response that makes all the difference.
As the story opens, we meet a most undesirable young man. Self-entitled and demanding, he can’t wait to get away from home. He claims his inheritance early and hits the road. Far from home, he squanders his money on sensual living. It all catches up with him, however, when a famine hits and his money runs out. From playboy to pig-keeper, great is his fall. And all those friends who hung around when he had money? Not one to be found.
Sitting in the pig slop, the young man remembers his dad. He recalls his father’s generosity to his servants, and decides maybe, just maybe, his dad would receive him back as a hired hand. So he begins the long journey home. As he walks, he rehearses the speech he will give to prove his penitence. He imagines his dad’s response – the shame and disappointment in his eyes, the anger in his voice, the “I told you so’s” and “things can never be the same” speech he was sure he would get.
Can you imagine his surprise when he sees his dad running toward him? Is he coming to stake a “no trespassing” sign at the gate?
Before a word is out of his mouth, his dad folds him into his arms and begins kissing him.
A bit dazed, the son starts his rehearsed speech. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Before he can say another word, his dad interrupts and begins to lavish forgiveness and affirmation on him. He declares a feast and throws a party to celebrate his son’s return.
His son. Not a hired servant, but his son.
In this story, Jesus painted a picture of the heart of our God. Compassionate and approachable. Eager to forgive and to welcome back home. Bountiful and liberal in His gifts toward His kids.
And here’s what I find most amazing. When the father receives his son, he leaves no reminders of who his son once was.
Sure, the son has his memories and the natural consequences of his sin. But that dead person – he’s not dead anymore. That lost boy – he’s home now. He’s no longer a pig-keeper or a playboy. He is a son. He doesn’t have to try or prove or spend his life doing penance. He just is a son and nothing can change that fact.
He has a completely new identity.
And so it is with each of us who call God our Father. We are His kids – dearly beloved, fully accepted, lavishly gifted and intimately known.
While some might think this gives license to sin, I find it to be quite the opposite.
If I am so greatly loved, oh, how I want to love Him back!
If I am a new person, I want my life to reflect that fact.
If I am gifted with the Holy Spirit, I want to give Him free reign in my heart.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).
How does a new identity affect the way you think and live?