The Prodigal Father

March 11, 2010

The Prodigal Father

There was once a rich and kindly father who lived with his two sons in a lavish mansion. But late one evening, in the very dead of night, the father packed a few small items and left quietly.

The first son awoke the next day and, upon discovering his father’s disappearance, continued with his chores religiously. Days passed into month, and these months gradually dissolved into years. Through toil and rationalization, this son successfully repressed the haunting fact that the father had abandoned them. Instead of facing the pain, he allowed the reality of the situation to fester silently in the depth of his being.

The other son also refused to face up to the pain of his father’s midnight exodus. In confusion and fear he withdrew his share of the father’s inheritance and ran away, losing himself in worldly distractions of all kinds. But he found that no matter where he traveled, he could not escape the sorrow in his heart, and no matter what activity he engaged in, the amnesia it offered was not enough to cloud the memory of his father’s disappearance. In addition to this, he soon found himself utterly destitute and poor. After only a few years he found himself without money or friends, working on a pig farm, where he would have to share the scraps that he fed to the animals in order to supplement his diet.

After many months of this pitiful existence, he decided to face up to his father’s disappearance and return home.

When he finally reached the great mansion, he found his brother still caring for the property, still toiling on the land, and still suppressing the memory of their father’s exodus. The brother who had never left held resentment in his heart against the one who had squandered his inheritances on to return empty-handed. However, the other brother paid no heed to this animosity for his gaze was set on a deeper concern. Each day he would carefully ready a calf for slaughter and lay out his father’s favorite cloak in preparation for a great feast of celebration. Once he had done this he would then sit by the entrance of the mansion and passionately await the father’s return.

He waits there still, to this day, yearning for the homecoming of the prodigal father with longing and forgiveness in his heart.

——————————————

A good chunk of the Psalms are laments, Godly people saying, “Hey! I’m in trouble here. Where’d you go?” It isn’t as though Christianity springs from a tradition that just blindly accepts whatever God does and makes its peace with it. No, the Jewish tradition is one of struggle and yearning, Jacob is not given the named Israel for nothing. At its best, the Christian tradition has been able to compliment the long Jewish tradition of questioning God. Much of the theology that emerged in the wake of the World Wars last century reflected an honest struggling with the divine. Even earlier than this The Dark Night of the Soul and The Cloud of Unknowing reflected pre-enlightenment striving to come to grips with divine distance. And don’t forget that the first Christians thought Jesus would be back within their lifetimes, and… yeah.

So let’s be honest about it, first of all. Sometimes, God’s just not evident. I don’t really think it does us any good to encourage people to think that for some of us God’s always on, like a drive-thru window or something.

What to do about this, then? Well, we see two possible answers here. (Three, if you want to be picky, and I will be later.) The first son goes grimly about his tasks with no joy in his heart. No one wants to be this guy, but a lot of us are. The second son gets consumed in grief and goes on a years long Fat Tuesday simulation. I do not recommend this path, either. The second son does, finally, come to terms with his grief, with the absence of his father, and sets about preparing things for the father’s return, ready to greet his father joyfully. This is the third way, and like in so many other cases, I think the third way is best.

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