In a hot mess of inarticulate father-love, I sputtered, “But you love Jesus!” My son had been explaining how he wasn’t sure he was still a Christian. I had been challenging him to return to Jesus. My declaration felt pathetic.
I understand the aching heart from which these words flowed, but only now am beginning to understand what I meant. After all, Jesus said if you love him, you will obey his commands. This kid wasn’t. And who was I to tell one my son who he loved? Was this another annoying example of parental over-reach? Maybe not.
Re-reading the parable of the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke has helped me figure out what I meant. After the prodigal son had wasted his inheritance and descended into poverty, he looked with longing at the pig food. In the King James Version (Luke 15:17), we are then told: “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger?’” Other translations begin with “But when he came to his senses” (NIV, NASB). However, “to himself” is closer to the original Greek.
The phrase “to himself” helps me understand what was moving in my spirit when I told my son he loved Jesus. I want my son, like the prodigal, to come back to himself—to the person God’s Word declares, he was created to be. My sons were made to love God and be loved by Him. “To come to himself” isn’t just a turn back to who he once was; it is a step forward to the person God created him to be.
After coming to himself, the prodigal’s mind turns to his father because who we are is always defined by relationship. We are not ourselves apart from relationship with God. The idea we must escape God, run from our father, in order to be ourselves is one of Satan’s most terrible and yet popular lies. It is a promise of freedom that ends in slavery to sin and our own flesh. The son’s journey home is a journey back to relationship with his father.
Even though the prodigal son declares himself no longer worthy to be his father’s son, his father runs down the road, wraps his arms around his son, kisses him and gives him the robe and ring of sonship. In other words, the father ignores the son’s own despairing definition of himself and declares the prodigal, “My son!” With exuberant love the father completes his prodigal son’s “coming to himself”—a beloved son wrapped in His Father’s arms.
This is what was bursting in my heart when I exclaimed, “But you love Jesus!” And in many ways, it is what should be said to every young believer who is hurt or bored with the Church. Yes, Christians are a wounded and wounding bunch of people, “But you love Jesus!” Yes, earthly fathers and mothers are flawed and fail us in many ways, “But you love Jesus!” Yes, there are many intellectual questions about our faith that need answers, “But you love Jesus!”
Sometimes the revelation that we love Jesus is as important as the revelation God loves us. This is part of the what was pouring out of my heart to my son. How can one know of Jesus and not love him? I love his goodness, wisdom, gentleness, and boldness. I can’t read one of the gospels and not fall in love with Him, desire to follow Him, and hope to become like Him. I wasn’t merely informing my son that he loved Jesus—I was declaring Jesus worthy to be loved. How can we be honest with God and heaven and not love Jesus?
We can pray that every prodigal son and daughter will come “to themselves”. We can pray they will remember the relationship with their Father who is already making a cloud of dust as He runs down the road. Because, really, they love Jesus!