The Love of a Father

In the story of the Prodigal, Jesus presents an illustration of God the Father's love. If you haven't read it or don't know the story, this post (and the next three that follow it) probably won't make much sense, so I'd recommend reading it: Luke 15:11-32.

God's love is simple. It's unconditional, meaning it is literally given indiscriminately, without consideration of who does or doesn't deserve it. It can't be lost, diminished, increased, or earned. It is a constant of the universe.

That sounds pretty simple and true, until, inevitably, it doesn't.

We know we didn't earn God's love, but sometimes it can get twisted in our head to where we think we need to maintain a certain level of holiness in order to keep God's love. We know that we are loved, but we think we'll be loved more if we do good things or less if we don't.

In the story, the son asked for his inheritance early (which was incredibly disrespectful), then spent all the money selfishly and recklessly. He spent it on prostitutes and any other indulgence that his heart desired. Then… he was hella broke. Like, couldn't even afford Ramen-style broke. He was starving. He got a really bad job feeding pigs, and he was jealous of the pigs. He wanted to eat the pig slop.... like, real starving.

And then he came to his senses:

"Wait… even my dad's servants have more than enough food, and I'm out here starving. If I go back, I know I could never be accepted as a son… but, maybe—maybe if I beg—, my dad will let me be a servant."

So, he headed back toward his father's house with the hope that he could get a job.

And… pause.

These are the son's thoughts about his father. Sometimes, our thoughts don't line up with reality. When it comes to God's love, we sadly distort His love in an attempt to make it make sense to us. We'll say to ourselves something like, "God's love is unconditional, BUT..." Any thought that comes from a place that tries to add a condition to God's love is a lie. It's either a lie from the enemy or a lie from our own flesh. Regardless, it doesn't line up with truth. I heard one pastor say "it doesn't matter if the thought is from you or not; if it doesn't line up with truth, you need to get a new thought".

See, even though the son didn't have the subjective experience of his father's love, his father never stopped loving him. Even while he was gone and unrepentantly rebelling, God still loved him.

Repentance is a good thing; but God loves people who haven't repented yet. (This parable actually offers evidence of that!) God loves you eternally, long before you ever came to Him, or even existed.

Alright, unpause.

Before the son even made it back to his father's house, his father ran to him—he didn't walk, he RAN. Bob said old people don't run unless something CRAZY happens..... the crazy thing that happened was that the father—Father God—loved the son with a crazy love.

The father kissed him, put the finest robes in the house on his son, gave him a ring of sonship, and brought him shoes.

So, you might say to yourself:

"Yeah, his father loved him a lot, but only after he came back."

But the father loved him the entire time he was gone. We see that when the father says "bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate." This isn't like the other examples of affection. In order to have a fattened calf, his father must have been fattening it for years and years as he waited for his son to return. His father was preparing for him to return the entire time he was gone!

And, how did his father see him when he was still "a long way off"? Because he was looking! His father never stopped looking for him! His father didn't wait to hear his repentance. The second he saw that his son was back, he wanted his son back, and there were no other forces at work except his love.

God the Father's love is always turned on in His heart, even if we aren't connecting with it. If you aren't "feeling it" in a moment, there's no reason to be afraid. His love is still there, even if you're having trouble experiencing it. His love is amazing, and I hope you're able to experience it at all days. But I want you to remember that, if you're having trouble connecting, it's not because God withdrew His love from you. His love is always present.

If you are ever ashamed to go to God, whether it's because you messed up for the millionth time or it's because you've never known how or if you could "come home", I want you to know that you can and that, while being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong process, coming home and beginning to live as a son or daughter of God is a simple decision. God's arms are always open and waiting, and His love is always turned on. All you need to do is say "okay". Then, the angels throw a party in heaven for you, and you can talk to your community to figure out how to start living like God's child every day. It's the most amazing experience you can ever have. :) (P.S. Prayer is really awesome and fun when you realize how much God loves you and start experiencing His love!)

Lastly, all this talk about God's love makes me want to share more about what God's love is like. I'd highly recommend reading 1 Corinthians 13 to learn a little more about what God's love is like. For me, a perspective shift started to happen when I started to replace the word "love" in that passage with the word "God" (because God is love (1 John 4:8)).

I want to end by sharing a bridge from my current favorite worship song, about what God's love is (and isn't) like. I've found a lot of comfort and heart-correction in these words, and I hope they're helpful to you too. :)

"Your love's not fractured
It's not a troubled mind
It isn't anxious
It's not the restless kind
Your love's not passive
It's never disengaged
It's always present
And it hangs on every word we say
Love keeps its promises
It keeps its word
It honors what's sacred
'Cause its vows are good
Your love's not broken
It's not insecure
Your love's not selfish
Your love is pure"


– from "Pieces" by Amanda Lindsey Cook & Steffany Gretzinger (Bethel Music)

Author | Andrew Elder

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