Often when we think of God we think of an old man in the sky, someone far away, or we think of the paintings or stained glass windows of a church. But God is not this distant being waiting to punish us when we make a mistake. He is here right now. The Bible describes him as a loving father. Not an alcoholic father, or a violent father, like we may experience in this world, but a perfect loving father.
Jesus told a story to help us understand God’s heart for us:
Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father.
‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.
‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
- Lets first put ourselves in the place of the father. How did he feel when his son asked for his inheritance and left? Did the father do the right thing in letting him go? What would you do?
- What is the son like, what attitudes did he show?
- Put yourself in the place of the son at the moment he decides to return home. What is he feeling? Why does he want to return? Why does he feel he has to offer himself as a servant to his father?
- What is the father like, what attitudes and character can we see in the passage?
- Who do you think the father and the son represent? Some have said they represent God and humanity. Do you agree with this?
Summary and Application
- If this story represents God and us, what does it say about our condition before God? What do we need to do about it?
The story began with a son thinking of himself, wanting to be free of his obligations and of the influence of his father. The story ends with the son returning home, loved, accepted and restored. Maybe the most important discovery we make today is about God’s attitude towards us, his lost sons and daughters: God’s heart is broken for the lost. He is a loving father who patiently awaits our return. This story shows us how Jesus saw the situation between us and God, and it gives us hope: God will forgive those who choose to follow the example of the lost son, who repented and returned home.