Tag Archive: Condemnation

I came across an article by Dr. James Emory White in which he listed the top 10 books that helped shape his faith.  I’ve written that one before.  I must be a slower learner.  My list of 10 is really about 18.  

At about the same time I read Dr. White’s article a dear friend dropped off a worn copy of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son picture.  He and I are constantly discussing the amazing story Jesus told to give a picture of his great redemption.  We talk about how we often demand our lot from God and run away squandering it.  Rembrandt’s rendition catches the attention of  both of us.

I don’t want to list the top 10 books that almost everybody reading this article will not read.  If you want to know email me.  I don’t want to list my favorite verses.  Why?  They are mine not necessarily yours.  I would like to talk about the Prodigal Son story.  Tim Keller, author and theologian, calls the story the Prodigal Father.  He’s right.  Prodigal means “wild.”  It’s not about the wild son.  It’s the wild nature of the Father who welcomes his son back to the family with no questions or demands.  The Scriptures are fulfilled in this story where we read in Psalm 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,” and Hebrews 8:12, “For I … remember their sins no more.”  

Rembrandt’s picture details the love, grace and mercy in such forgiveness.  It is consuming and mysterious at the same time.  Henri Nouwen, author, had an opportunity to sit for hours with the original painting.  It humbled him and inspired him at the same time.  

The hands of the father bring comfort to the weary son whose shoes and feet reveal his troublesome paths.  We like to think we can hide the paths we have taken.  If only our feet and shoes could talk!  So often those paths are far from a loving God.  We like to think we know better than the young boy.  But, it’s the hands of dad that bring safety, drawing the smelly, stained and broken boy to his bosom.  

The eyes of the Prodigal Father look downward with compassion at his long lost boy.  He isn’t looking for a response from the onlookers.  He isn’t rolling his eyes as if to say, “What do I do now?”  No, they look to his boy.  His son!  Yes, “all we like sheep have gone astray.”  But, He, as the Good Shepherd welcomes the wayward one home.  No questions.  No demands.  The safety of His embrace is all that is needed.

Meanwhile, the onlookers are watching every move.  The older jealous brother of the prodigal is shadowed in the darkness that surrounds the embrace.  Their faces speak volumes of questions.  Those questions often like ours are not ones of redemption but rather ones of judgment.  

Can you hear those questions?  Where has he been?  What is wrong with the father?  Will he not have to give account?  They go on and on.  All questions whose answers cannot satisfy the one asking.  After the questions come the comments.  We have all heard them.  He must pay!  He is not allowed in the house smelling like a pig!  He needs to take a bath?  His father is out of his mind!  

From the Father come no words. His actions are more important than his words.  Few understand it is not the actions of the son that are the center of this story. It is the actions of his father that are the emphasis!  For his actions say more than words can.  Anybody can say, “I love you.”  What they do in the name of love will reveal them as true or not.  

Of course this picture and story reveal the nature of our faith in Jesus Christ.  Christianity has forgotten that the faith is not about the Christian.  It is about the Christ.  HIs love transcends the expectations of a fallen people.  HIs grace is limitless.  HIs mercy is so profound a wayward son can’t help but be on his knees.

Left in the shadows is the brother.  His attitude and words reveal that he doesn’t understand the heart of his father as well.  He thought it was about obedience.  His love of the law kept him as well from the love in the heart of his father.  So, he stays in the background.  He should be on his knees as well.  

Our world is full of questions.  It’s full of condemnation and criticism.  What will it take to turn it’s focus as in the Rembrandt masterpiece, to the love, grace and mercy of the Prodigal Father?  We know the answer.  In the end of the Good Samaritan story, when mercy was given,   Jesus gives a simple command.  He says, “Go and do likewise.”  As we embrace the love of the Father, the words echo again, “Go.”  There’s more.  “Go and do.” Nope we are not there yet.  “Go and do likewise.”  Like whom?  His name is Jesus.  We can’t be known for our obedience.  But we can be known for our love, grace and mercy of which the Father through Jesus gives immeasurably to us and desires for us to give to others.  

As the plane was preparing to land, the pilot came on the audio system to inform the passengers that an earthquake had set off a tsunami. The northern coast of Australia was on full alert. The joyous passengers suddenly became quiet. It wouldn’t take too long until we landed and faced the devastation and death that quickly followed just to the north of us. Our trip took on a new dimension.
We made our way to Darwin from Sydney. The sleepy coastal town suddenly became the center of the Australian relief effort. As supplies went out survivors came in. Restaurants became places where many would sit and listen for hours to the first hand accounts.
Heads would shake. Hands trembled. Tears would flow. Drinks would be passed around. In our lifetime we had never seen nor heard of a tsunami. Christmas went from a time of great celebration to sudden dread and disaster. Over 225,000 people lost their lives that day. It will be a Christmas I won’t forget. We had flown into Sydney to study the biomes of Australia on Christmas Day and ended up with a unique view of the fragility of life.
Some told stories about the ocean retreating before the first wave struck. Nobody was thinking tsunami. There was a total lack of knowledge and understanding. Instead of running the opposite way many were walking far out, picking up shark’s teeth and amazing sea shells. Minutes later their lives would be on the line. Others reported that the death toll did not accelerate upward as the water drove inland. More lives were lost as the water raced back to the ocean. Unseen debris-laced water ripped people out of the trees and buildings sending them to certain death.
Several days later, pictures left us breathless. Towns were gone. Buildings had disappeared. Families were lost. The infrastructure was totally destroyed, leaving more sickness and death to come.
First hand accounts and images not seen in the States etched memories that will last a lifetime. How we could be snorkeling on the great barrier reef, enjoying some of the most beautiful creation observed by man, only to have the same nature take so many lives at will just to our north was beyond comprehension. The Indian Ocean tsunami took place 14 years ago. Many of the communities have recovered but many, many lives will never be the same.
In the late 1990’s a cultural tsunami crashed upon American shores in full force. It should not have been a surprise to the Christian community. Unlike the Indian Ocean waves, we were warned. For some reason we didn’t listen to the warning sirens. Was it spiritual arrogance? Maybe. Was it ignorance thinking the church itself could withstand such mind-numbing influences? Maybe. We spend too much time wanting to lay blame instead of facing the fact that the tsunami has struck, and we are woefully hanging on for dear life.
Between rampant consumerism and pervasive relativism even the church looks like life back in the book of Judges when every man did what was right in his own eyes. King Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.” We like to look out the window of the church with condemning attitudes. In the 60’s, we blamed the hippies. In the 70’s, we blamed Vietnam. In the 80’s, we blamed politics. In the 90’s, we blamed technology. In the early 2000’s, we blamed the Islamic Jihad. In the teens, we blame them all.
Meanwhile we continue to refuse to look inside the walls of the church and our own hearts. We need to set up confessionals. Instead of hearing confessions, we need to confess our sins. We are just as much consumers as the wolves on Wall Street. We treat Biblical truth as if we are at the Golden Corral picking and choosing what we want at any given time to make us happy. A friend of mine once said, “We call ourselves sinners but we won’t dare say what kind.” We show up on Sunday thinking we are more pious then our non-churched friends. Maybe we are like those who were looking for sea shells instead of comprehending the signs of massive change unlike we have ever seen before.
Martin Luther called the church in his day to repent. That was the message in the 1st of his 95 theseis. We need the same today. The call isn’t just for those who have remained in the pews. It’s for those who abandoned the system established by God himself as well. We look no different than the world anymore. They mock us with the name “Christian.” Instead of resentment maybe we should consider their words as truth. Jesus said, “He who loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I know that message doesn’t fill pews. It wasn’t supposed to.