Alive Again

Theologian Karl Barth, after writing thousands of pages in his Church Dogmatic, arrived at this simple definition of God: “the One who loves.”

Not long ago I heard from a pastor friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter. He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all. The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail. The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them: “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

My friend told me, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home. I felt such rage. I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate us and twist the knife to hurt us. And of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone. I understood then the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger. The people knew how to wound him, and God cried out in pain.

“And yet I must tell you, when my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, to tell her I wanted the best for her. I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

Now, when I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision. I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness. I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive and begin anew, to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Mozart’s Requiem contains a wonderful line that has become my prayer, one I pray with increasing confidence: “Remember, merciful Jesus, That I am the cause of your journey.” I think he remembers. (Philip Yancey,  What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Zondervan, 1997, pp. 55-56)

PRODIGAL SON by Bob Kessel after Rembrandt

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