I was sitting with a couple of friends a few months ago talking about the images of God we carry around within us that simply aren't true. We were wondering out loud about where these images had come from and how we had come to believe that they were actually true. As we talked, we had to acknowledge the fact that, however it happened, somehow these images had taken root deep inside of us and greatly affected the way we lived our lives. They had created patterns, habits, and ways of being and thinking that were so deeply ingrained in us that they seemed impossible to break free of. But as we were talking a beautiful image began to emerge, an image of God as a kind and loving father. A father that is so delighted with us that the very thought of us brings a huge smile to his face and deep joy to his heart. A father that is so overcome with love for us that the very sight us makes his heart skip a beat and brings a song to his lips. And as we discussed this particular image the two friends stopped, looked at each other (obviously they had been down this road together before), and said that this particular image was really hard for them to believe because they both had "father issues." And, from the moment they said those words, the phrase has stuck with me ever since. First and foremost because, as a father, it terrifies me. It makes me wonder what wounds and scars I have left on the inner terrain of my own children through the years; what "father issues" I have created for them. And secondly because it causes me to admit that we all have marks (both good and bad) that have been left on us by our experiences of growing up in a "fallen world." Even those of us, like me, with the best of fathers.
Fathers have it tough. We put a lot on them. Even the very best Dads are far from perfect and cannot possibly live up the expectations and demands we put on them. Every single one of us, no matter how hard we try, will disappoint and let down our families in some way or another. We can't possibly love them the way they most need for us to. It is just a simple fact. That is not meant to excuse or dismiss the responsibility that fathers are charged with. And it is not meant to excuse or dismiss the fact that, in this fallen world, some fathers do horrific and unimaginable things to their kids that no child anywhere at any time should ever have to endure. But we need to come to terms with the fact that our fathers can never love us the way we most deeply need and desire to be loved--only God can. I wonder if most of our "father issues" arise when we begin to demand or expect something from our fathers that only God can give. Only God can love us as deeply and perfectly and as passionately as we need and long to be loved. And when we allow ourselves to be convinced of and captured by that incredible Father-love of God, then, and only then, can the deepest longings of our souls be satisfied. Only then can we be free and able to love our families deeply and well.
I think that's part of what Jesus was getting at when he told the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He was trying to give us an image of God that would capture us so fully and completely that it would change everything about us. Just look at the following verses and you will see what I mean:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24 NIV)
We all know the story. A father has two sons. The younger of the two comes and asks for his share of the inheritance, so the father gives it to him. The son then proceeds to leave the house for a distant land where he squanders his inheritance on wild living. When he reaches bottom, in the filth and stink of the pig sty, he finally comes to his sense and heads home, practicing his speech all along the way, hoping his father will have mercy on him and take him back. But the father had not been angry, in fact, the father had been waiting; watching, hoping, and dreaming of the day he would see his son on the horizon, coming back home. That's where it gets really good. That's where we begin to see the depths of the heart of this Father. Just look at the words.
While he was still a long way off. I absolutely love this line! I love it because the son hadn't arrived yet. The father loved him while he was still a long way off. In fact, that's where the father met him. He didn't meet him on the porch, and he didn't meet him inside the house. He met him out in the field while he was still a long way off. The son was totally accepted by the father. I don't know about you, but that is a great comfort to me. I haven't arrived yet either. I am still a major work in progress too. I'm still in process. I'm still on the way. I'm still a long way off. I'm still a mess, yet God the father loves me, accepts me, and meets me right there in the midst of it all. Right in the middle of the field. What a wonderful father!
His father saw him. I absolutely love this word! It is more than just a casual seeing. In fact, this word is used often to describe Jesus' type of seeing. It means to see into. It is a seeing that goes far beyond the surface, to the very heart. We all have such a deep longing to be seen. I know, I know, we are fearful and hiding most of the time, but, at our core, we really do long to be seen, to be known, to be accepted, and to be loved anyway. We are so tired of hiding. We are so tired of trying to make things look okay on the surface. We know better. We know what really lies underneath. But when we keep people on the surface in fear, we will never be truly known. And we were made to be known. The amazing thing is that God (the father) sees us to the core and loves us anyway. He sees us and doesn't run away screaming because of what he has seen. In fact, he does just the opposite.
He was filled with compassion. Instead of being repulsed by what he had seem, a deep love welled up in his heart. The words used here literally mean to be moved from the depths of your being. When the father saw the son (really saw him), he was deeply moved, from the depths of his heart, with love. Be really honest here. How do you think God really looks at you? When he sees you, what fills his heart? My honest answers are: disappointment, frustration, sadness, contempt, or, at the very least, indifference. What about you? Fill in the blank. When God sees me he is filled with___________. The truth is that he is filled with a love that comes from the depths of his heart. We are loved more deeply than we could ever imagine.
He ran. He what? Are you kidding me? God ran? God ran to me? He didn't wait. He didn't make the son come crawling back. He didn't stay on the porch. As a matter of fact, he couldn't stay on the porch. His heart just would not allow it. His heart would not allow his feet to be still, so he ran. That's what the whole incarnation is all about, by the way. God just couldn't stay away. He desires us so deeply that he runs to us. God desires you.
He threw his arms around him. In spite of the leaving home, in spite of the time in a distant land, in spite of squandering his inheritance, in spite of the fact that the stink of the pig sty was still heavily upon him; he threw his arms around him. He didn't make him go inside and change his clothes first, he didn't make him take a bath and get cleaned up, he wrapped his arms around him. We all long to be deeply embraced, warts and all, stink and all, dirt and all. God longs to wrap his arms around us.
He kissed him. And not only did he kiss him, but the words literally mean, he kissed him much. He smothered him with kisses. He could not stop kissing him, so deep was his love and affection for his son. God has deep affection for us. God longs for intimate and passionate relationship with us.
So they began to celebrate. All of us deeply long to be celebrated. In fact, we long for it so deeply that we will be celebrated somehow by someone. We will work to make sure it happens, or die trying. Accomplishments, achievements, reputation, appearance, performance, etc. (See this post) Unfortunately, when we seek to have our need to be celebrated satisfied by the world alone, it is like a dog chasing its tail. It is an endless cycle of need and desire. It is a bottomless pit. That is because we are chasing something that only God can give us. God celebrates you!!! He is delighted in you!!! As a matter of fact Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that he is so delighted in us that it brings a song to his lips. God loves you more than you could dream about in your wildest dreams.
But that's not where it all ends. In fact, that is where it all begins. Because God loves us like that so that we can offer that same love to a lost and broken world. The point of the parable is not to always be the younger son, or the older brother, but to be more and more like the Father. The father, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14, from whom all fatherhood, in heaven and earth, derives its name.
So today, on this Father's Day, know the deep love and affection, the joy and delight of your Father God. And go, into your home and community and world to be bearers and sharers of this love passes knowledge. May his love and peace be with you.