This is the blessing of manic thinking: I see connections, signs, and divine interventions when I am manic that I would not otherwise see. Hold tight as I wend my way through the insights that came to me earlier this week.
For years, I have proof-read the bulletins for Grace Church. I love the job partly because I am meticulous (read: OCD) but also because it forces me to scrutinize the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday. True, the secretary ‘cuts’ the text from a web page and ‘pastes’ it directly into the bulletin document on her computer, so there should be no errors, but I have actually found a place in scripture where the verses go from verse 25 to verse 27; there is no verse 26. Why? I have no idea.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the story of the Prodigal Son. (Prodigal, by the way, means wastefully extravagant). It seems that it has been fashionable, for quite some time, to focus on the stay-at-home son who has a difficult time dealing with the way his father welcomes his brother back after his brother has abandoned the family and wasted his inheritance. I think preachers focus on the disgruntled brother because the lesson of the prodigal brother seems to be obvious. I’m not so sure the lesson is all that obvious, but it is simple.
Now, the New Testament lesson for Sunday is from 2nd Corinthians:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The traditional emphasis here is on the last sentence, to be reconciled to God because of how Christ was made “to be sin for us.” But, the way my eyes were drawn, was to the middle part: “God…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…and has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Paul moves on from this middle point way too quickly.
Back to the Gospel: At the beginning of the story, we see the father giving his impatient son just what he asks for and lets him leave. It sounded like a pretty short-sighted move on the part of the father, to me, when I first learned the story. Did he not know his son very well? Did he not realize what the son was going to do? Of course he did! Look at the wisdom of the father at the end. He knew all along what would happen. His goal was not to protect his wealth; his goal was the maturation of his son. More so, his goal was to show his son the intrinsic value of his family and his father’s love…which he did not appreciate in his young, immature state. The father understood that there is more to life than the possessions his son would squander. He saw a way to love his son with “tough love,” (a term made common through a book by Scott Peck, titled The Road Less Traveled.)
Timothy Keller, in his book Walking With God through Pain and Suffering, suggests God uses, if not allows, hardships to befall his children to draw them closer to Him. I will be bold and suggest God may, in fact, bring about hardships to do just that. Remember, this is not heaven; this is the life before the afterlife. This is our youth, our training ground.
Many people struggle with the idea of an all-good God doing or causing something bad. I am asking you to put that discomfort aside for a bit, and to hear me out.
I have been teaching my daughter how to drive. I will, on occasion, allow her to hit the curb to teach her how far she is from the edge. I will let her miss her turn so she will learn other ways of getting where she is going. I will allow her to ‘pull away,’ knowing full well she is still in reverse gear or still has the brake on. Of course, I never do this if there is a possibility that she will hurt herself or someone else, but making mistakes is part of the learning process; I daresay it is the most effective part of the learning process.
In a previous essay, “This is Why,” I list only a few of the hardships and devastations I have suffered in my life and I follow up with how those experiences have equipped me with wisdom to help others, yes, but also to put me where I am now and (a BIG AND) to depend only on God.
Still with me?
Had the prodigal son not been impatient to be away from family and work, had he not been ‘prodigal’ and lost his wealth, had he not found a job feeding pigs, had there not been a famine, had he not been hungry and thinking of his father’s table, he would not have hit rock bottom and returned home…on his knees.
Hitting rock bottom: step one toward reconciliation with God.
Approaching God from a place of comfort or complacency does not change one’s soul to the depth that hitting rock bottom can. God’s goal for us in this life before the afterlife is for us to be reconciled to Him. Christ’s death on the cross cleansed our sins but I have never been able to experience the event as powerfully as I have been able to experience illness, injury, poverty, shame, rejection, neglect, and abandonment. These conditions, under the omnipotent and omniscient guidance and direction of God, took me to my knees. And I thank God for it. No, I praise God for it.
Now, for my part…my response to all of this: In 2nd Corinthians, Paul reminds the people of Corinth of Christ’s purpose for dying on the cross, but he emphasizes, too, that, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Ministry. That is a noun of action. It means we are to do something because of and with our being reconciled to God.
Furthermore, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Can it be any clearer than that? We are to tell others: family, friends, fellow writers, strangers in the grocery line, tech support people waiting for the system to respond, that we have been through the ringer, have hit bottom, and have come up for air singing praises to God.
Looking back, it has all been worth it…All of it…because now I no longer look for apologies, validation, comeuppance, or even reasons why. I have what God has wanted me to have all along: Him. And I am thrilled to be Christ’s ambassador, allowing God to make his appeal through me. It happens through my writings and it happens every day with strangers, thanks be to God.
May the Lord be with you…