Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God in Pursuit of Us

Luke 15 is probably my favorite parabolic passage.  I’ll be honest.  I’m a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to appreciating the parables of Jesus.  You know, those “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning”.  I’ve always been drawn to the doctrine of the epistles or the compassion of Jesus and His redemptive acts in the Gospels.  I love the prophets of the OT.  But those stories of Jesus?  It’s taken me awhile to really appreciate them.  But I have long been drawn to this passage.  Who could not be?  Three parables in one really.  Three stories teaching the same theme.  And the thunderous message that comes from them is that God is relentless in searching for what is lost.

Jesus’s first story is that of a shepherd.  He has 100 sheep and discovers that one is lost.  He leaves the 99 and searches for the lost one.  The second story is of a woman who has 10 silver pieces and discovers one is lost.  She searches every corner of her house until it is found.  The last story is of a Father who has two sons.  One rebels, leaves and spoils his life.  The Father waits and hopes for his son to return. 
That last story is the more famous of the three, and the one that seems to throw a monkey wrench into everything.  In the previous two, the shepherd and the woman are both active in finding what is lost.  But here, the father seems a bit passive.  I said he “seems” passive.  But it only seems so to 21st century readers…people immersed in Amber Alerts, FBI Missing Persons Bureau, bounty hunters, credit card searches, cell phone pings, GPS, Facebook and social media.  But even then, if we’ll just pause a moment, we would realize a parent cannot force a rebellious child back home.  There is wisdom in waiting until the rebel is ready to receive reconciliation.  But that notwithstanding, in reading the passage in its 1st century context, you will notice the father was anything BUT passive. 

But when he [the prodigal son] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him [Luke 15:20 KJV].
This is truly the story of the Bible.  Our God is pursuing us.  His love is relentless.  It is hesed—to use the Hebrew word.  Faithful, steadfast, enduring love.  The love God spoke of in Isaiah 54:10,  “Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says your compassionate LORD (HCSB). 

Bible scholar John Oswalt remarks on such a loving, pursuing God.

The word hesed…[is] the descriptor par excellence of God in the Old Testament. The word speaks of a completely undeserved kindness and generosity done by a person who is in a position of power. This was the Israelites’ experience of God. He revealed himself to them when they were not looking for him, and he kept his covenant with them long after their persistent breaking of it had destroyed any reason for his continued keeping of it. …Unlike humans, this deity was not fickle, undependable, self-serving, and grasping. Instead he was faithful, true, upright, and generous—always.                                                                           
The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 71.
The Scottish bard, Thomas Carlyle is supposed to have said “God sit in Heaven and does nothing.”  But he doesn’t reflect most of humanity’s assessment.  Christians and non-believers alike have a sense of God’s tenacious love…and His unrelenting pursuit of us as objects of His love.  It is central to Christian doctrine:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus]; that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Long before we ever even thought about asking God for help with our alienated relationship, the Father launched a plan of love to send His Son.  So there we were.  Drowning in a quagmire of sin, when Jesus left His throne, laid aside His glory and searched for us—dead to God and all things holy—until He found us.

And this pursuing love is central to human experience.  For every bitter, jaded poet there are dozens of others who sense the presence of God in their lives and realites.  Robert Frost, the true bard of Scotland, would urge:

      Tend flowers that God has given
       And keep the pathway open
      That leads you on to heaven.”

But it is probably Francis Thompson’s late 19th century poem, The Hound of Heaven, that is remembered for capturing the thought of God’s relentless search of wayward people.
       From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
       But with unhurrying chase,
      And unperturbed pace,
      Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
      They beat—and a Voice beat
      More instant than the Feet—
      “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

God pursues us.  He loves you.  Will you not stop your running and let His love capture you?



No comments: