Facing the Father

by Ellen Foell, Legal Counsel

Last month’s article, “The Robe of Restoration”, got me thinking a little about another son who received a robe of restoration.

In Luke 15, we read the familiar story of a prodigal son who received a robe of restoration. Like Joseph, the son of Jacob, this son’s story also involved a robe. As a beloved son of a wealthy man, he probably owned several robes, signifying his honored position.

But unlike Joseph, whose special robe was taken from him, the prodigal son forfeited his robe, selling it for something better, flashier, more trendy. He demanded his inheritance from his father, and left home to pursue wild living.

The end of the story is also familiar: The son returned home, and his lavishly loving father blessed him with the best robe in the house!

As I was reading Luke 15 recently, I was struck by the image of the prodigal son, walking down the homeward path, dreading the moment he’d have to face his father.

As a teenager, the very thought of facing my father after I’d done wrong filled me with terror. Truth be told, the thought of facing my mother filled me with even more terror! I can still remember the pounding of my heart as I walked down the hallway, going to face my parents after I’d failed them.

Like the son in Luke 15, I would rehearse the conversation in my head, and sometimes even in front of a mirror—so as to ensure that my facial expression reflected “sincere” remorse. I would rehearse my approach, come up with words to say how I hadn’t meant to do it, or how it had been an accident, and how I’d never do it again.

Isn’t that what it was like for the son in this story?

Luke 15:20Well, if we look at the text, it describes the state of mind of the son: Moving from euphoria to deep depression and disillusionment. When the son left home, had money, he had time, he had no boundaries, he had friends, and he had wild living. But he soon became impoverished. The party died and his so-called friends left him lonely and broken.

Isn’t that often the case? Our sinful tendencytoward God-neglecting self-reliance only leads us to loneliness and spiritual bankruptcy. Without the help of God himself, we find ourselves trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of joy-robbing, isolating rebellion.

That’s why, even in his initial poverty, the son was not quite desperate enough to face his father. He thought he could help himself by hiring himself out. Again, watch how our self-reliant tendencies only lead to further misery. Try as he might to pull himself up by his sandal straps, the real problem with the prodigal son was always an issue of the heart.

We find it hard, as did the son, to face the father and ask him to change our heart. It seems easier to try and fix ourselves than to confess our short-comings and face our father.

What happens when even our best efforts come to nothing? The story tells us that in the midst of pigsty and slop, the son finally had an “aha” moment. He finally came to his senses, owned up to his hopeless emptiness, and set off to face his father.

But while the son made his way home, dreading the moment he was to face his father, a shocking display of the father’s grace awaited him. Filled with grace and eager to forgive, the father had never given up on his rebellious son.

I love the description of this scene: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NASB).

What was the father waiting for?

Did he wait for his son to return in order to get an accounting of how he’d spent the inheritance?

Did he wait in hope for a blow-by-blow retelling of every stupid decision?

Did he yearn for a well-rehearsed apology for every poor attitude and wounding word spoken?

No, the father waited in hope that his son would one day break the horizon, and come on home.

To be sure, something changed in the pigsty. But the real point is how everything changed when the son experienced his father’s undeserved, intimate, and unbreakable embrace.

In that moment—experiencing true grace and forgiveness—the son’s heart was changed, and he finally understood what had been in his father’s heart all along: Unconditional love.

Have you experienced the unconditional love of our God, who doesn’t demand an accounting, but instead, rejoices to demonstrate his incredibly patient love and mercy toward the children he loves?

This is a love that frees us to live joyfully, as we remember that our God is a father who delights to do good to his children—especially when we don’t deserve it.