My wife was going through old pictures with her dad one day and found some gems. No, she did not find actual gems, but she did find some extremely cute pictures of her when she was a kid. I have always loved old pictures and seeing into the lives of people when they were much younger. My wife found one picture of her with her dad and brother and the two siblings giving their dad a kiss on the cheek and it got me thinking: what was that like? What was it like to have a father like that in your life who loved you—supported you—prayed for you—a father who only wanted the best for his children? These are question I asked myself because I didn’t have a father like that in my life.
I incidentally shared this story and the photo with the high school I volunteer with along with a brief description of the Prodigal Son story (Luke 15). Most of these high schoolers don’t have the father the prodigal son had, so it was a good way to speak of God’s love for them. In the story of the Prodigal Son we see the youngest son run off with the inheritance his father gave to him and spend everything on wild living. The youngest son spent all his money on parties, prostitutes and anything his heart desired and inevitable led him to a trough full of pig food that now seemed appealing.
Most of us are familiar with this story and I’m guessing most of us have a hard time relating with the prodigal son. In the eyes of our culture, the prodigal son was not worthy of his father’s love because of his wasteful lifestyle and distasteful choices. The prodigal son did nothing worthy of his father’s love and had nothing to offer his father upon his return. This is what makes this story so scandalous and so inviting—that the younger son had nothing to offer and yet was showered in his father’s love. It’s scandalous because love was given when punishment was deserved. It’s inviting because love was given even though love was not deserved.
It may be hard to believe, but in a way, all of us are the prodigal son. With the choices we make and our demeanor toward God and his grace we ultimately say, “I got this, God. I don’t need you right now. Come back when I’m in trouble.” All of us are guilty of this and yet God still showers us in his love.
The picture of my wife and her dad isn’t much in the eyes of photography. The background of the picture isn’t appealing and the flash whitens out their faces. Even though this may be the case, it’s a beautiful picture that tells a story. The picture shows a father smiling ear to ear with his two kids showing their affection toward him. To a passerby this picture means very little, but with the background and history of this family, this picture paints vividly the same picture God paints for his children.
The prodigal son goes up to his father and instead of receiving a penalty for running off, he receives a reward. This picture is counterintuitive to our culture and may not make a lot of sense, but in the eyes of God, this is a beautiful display of love. In the picture of the prodigal son you can see a loving father run and embrace his rebellious son, not because the father is expecting a repayment or apology, but because he loves him. In the picture of my wife and her dad you can see the long nights up with a sick daughter, the teary eyes through surgery, the happiness at her first walk or first word, the constant prayer—you can see it all if you just look with the right lenses.
I may not have that picture with my dad and I may not have the same joyful experiences, but I do have a Father in heaven who loves me. I do have a Father in heaven who watches over me. I do have a Father in heaven who cares for me. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1a). Each person has that Father in heaven—despite their experiences with their earthly father and in spite of those experience, God the Father is the father waiting for his prodigal’s to run back to him. God’s not wanting a service or anything we could offer to repay our debt; he just wants us to see the love he has lavished on us (Ephesians 1:8).
I’m not telling you anything new. I’m simply reminding you of the great love God showed each and every person. Remind yourself of that today: that God loves you. I hope and pray that you can see this picture God is displaying for you.
Luke 15 // 1 John 3:1a // Ephesians 1:8 // John 3:16 // Romans 5:8