If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not) you may be rolling your eyes right now, thinking, “Oh great! Another blog about the story of the Prodigal! Haven’t we read and heard enough about this story already?” If that’s you, I empathize with you. I suppose you’re right and a part of me feels the same way. For several years running, it seemed the story of the Prodigal was always popping up somewhere. Perhaps it was due to the popularity a few years ago of Keller’s book, The Prodigal God. It does seem like that book started a trend that perhaps has been overdone.
But I think this post is going to have a different flavor – a different emphasis – because I want to talk with you about the Prodigal’s father. Not as a picture of what God is like, although I think that’s accurate, but as a human father. A broken father. A hurting father. A disappointed father. A worried father. An anxious father. A scared father. An unknowing father. An uncertain father. An angry father. An unappreciated father. A sad father. A powerless father, unable to fix the obvious wrong he sees. And a doubting father who often finds himself questioning the silence and absence of an all-powerful God in the midst of the heartbreak.
What about that man? What was it like for him when his son “gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” (Lk 15:13)? What was it like for him in the ensuing years of silence, with no contact? Never hearing, never knowing, and always wondering where he was, how he was getting along, and if he was okay or even alive. What was it like for him at family gatherings, parties, and holidays without his son there? What was it like for him when family and friends started to lovingly question him about the obvious absence of his son? What was it like for him when the realization fully hit that he was powerless to do anything about it? That he was powerless to intervene and help his son? What was it like when he realized that all he could do was wait and do nothing?
And wait he did. As hard as it was, he stepped back and did nothing. Nothing. He didn’t chase after his son to bring him back or try to prop up a temporary fix but instead, he embraced the gift of his own powerlessness and waited. He didn’t pursue him with clever and persuasive arguments. He came to the realization that God was at work writing his son’s story and he was powerless to interfere or change it. So he stepped back, prayed, watched, and waited, not knowing the outcome. And it was in the waiting that God brought his son to an end of himself. It was in the waiting that his son crashed and burned and “came to himself” (Lk. 15:17). It was in the waiting that the father determined that even though he was powerless to fix his son, he would always be there for him when needed. He would always be waiting. Waiting for his return and available at a moment’s notice. He would always be there. And then one day, it happened. And when his son came to the end of his rope, his thoughts turned to his father who was waiting. Always waiting. Just waiting.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24)