For those of you who have ever been in a Life Group with me, you already know which illustration I am thinking about: the father from the parable of the prodigal son. Entire books have been written about this man. His love has been illustrated in (probably) millions of sermons. But why do I think his story is revolutionary and counter-cultural? Because even today, approximately two thousand years after the story was first told, his actions are still shocking and most people when faced with a similar situation, would not respond the way he did.
This past Sunday, one of the first points that Pastor John made was that sin is not primarily a moral offense, it is a relational offense. Look at what happens between the father and son in the beginning of the parable. The son asks for his portion of his inheritance. Totally rude and disrespectful, but also a great example of a sin being relational rather than moral. Later, as the son has hit rock bottom and prepares his apology to his father: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19 ESV) the son recognizes that he messed up the relationship with his father and prepares an apology to his father.
Have you ever betrayed someone to the degree of the prodigal? Put yourself into his shoes for a moment. Think about the times you have betrayed someone and realized you were wrong: when you have sinned against someone else – not just morally, but relationally. I have felt my absolute lowest the times I realized I hurt people – even a little bit. The prodigal must have felt the same. I can only imagine the shame, guilt, and self-hatred he must have felt. The father however, does not care. When he returns home, the father runs to him and does not even let him finish the apology – the son hasn’t even gotten it all out. The father is not waiting for the son to say what he has to say, he isn’t concerned if the boy has “learned his lesson”, there is no mention of reparations of the lost money. He embraces the son as he is.
What a beautiful illustration of fatherhood – that there is nothing the son can do to make the father love him any less. That regardless of the depth of his sin against his father, there is no grudge, at least from the father. No, like many of us, we hold onto that guilt and shame and hide ourselves within a shell of being unworthy of love from the one we have hurt: “I am no longer worthy of being called your son…” And yet the father restores him immediately to his previous full status as his son.
Why is it so hard for so many people to truly experience God’s love? Perhaps for many of us, it is inconceivable that we are worthy of being loved like that. We are holding onto so many hurts within us that we think ourselves unlovable. We think that before we can be loved we need to be better people, cleaned up before we can be worthy. But God loves us as we really are – whether we like it or not. Our shortcomings, our mistakes, even the relational sin we hold against ourselves – we struggle to love ourselves. In his book Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning says “Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us… Because of how we feel about ourselves, it’s sometimes difficult to believe this… We cannot accept love from another human being when we do not love ourselves, much less accept that God could possibly love us.”
How can we move towards healing when our emotions are so deeply seeded? For a start, instead of looking at the mercy of the Father as a response to our sin, right from the beginning, the love of the Father is unchanged. No matter what we do, no matter what we hold against ourselves, we are loved. That is the truth we need to accept and start with. That is the truth that is the basis for any healing within ourselves. We all sin relationally against God, but He does not stop loving us for even a second because of it.
Trying to follow,