Imagine with me you have a child—and only one. The delivery had complications that threatened his life, but the boy lived. So you name your son Nathaniel—“given of God.”
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While recovering at home, you begin the ritual every three hours of feeding little Nathaniel and rocking him while he screams through fits of colic. Without missing one feeding, or letting one diaper go unchanged, or any needs unmet, you never give up because you know your child would literally die without your care.
As Nathaniel grows, you teach him to walk, you change the soiled sheets, and you work hard to buy new clothes he’ll quickly outgrow. Every new stage presents a new set of sacrifices, but you never give up because you love Nathaniel.
The day he drives off to college represents a milestone in your parenting, and you stand proud of what God has made of Nathaniel.
You have no idea that things are about to change.
Months pass and he comes home for Christmas break. When you ask him if he’ll help you with some holiday preparations, he looks you straight in the eye and says: “Listen. Who are you to tell me what to do? I’m my own person now!”
Then he turns on his heels, slams the door, and peels out of the driveway.
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Later that evening you blow dust off an old photo album. You remember all the feedings, the diapers, the sheets, the countless hours of lost sleep, and the millions of times you chose you would never give up so Nathaniel’s needs would get met.
Now, ironically, he sees you as his biggest problem.
The Pain of Ingratitude
Here we catch but a glimmer of the pain God feels toward His wayward children whom He desperately loves. With a frog in His anthropomorphic throat, God recalled:
‘When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’ And in spite of all God did for His children, ‘They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols.’ —Hosea 11:1-2
They returned to the very things from which God had delivered them.
In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, the actor Brad Pitt referred to one subject repeatedly: religion. “I would call it oppression,” he said, “because it stifles any kind of personal individual freedom.” He described the Prodigal Son parable of Luke 15 this way:
This is a story which says if you go out and try to find your own voice and find what works for you and what makes sense for you, then you are going to be destroyed and you will be humbled and you will not be alive again until you come home to the father’s ways. —Brad Pitt
Where Spiritual Independence Stumbles
I read about an angry man who bolted from a discussion group, slamming the door after him. One person tried to relieve the tension by saying: “Well, he’s gone.”
“No, he isn’t,” the hostess replied. “He just walked into my closet!”
I find we discover the same problem when we run from God’s presence:
- We remain confined to ourselves.
- We learn that apart from Him is not the freedom we thought it would be.
- We would give all we have and more to be once again within the constraints of God.
The Prodigal Son is not a story of a father waiting to clobber his wayward son, but it tells of a father who will never give up on his wandering child. Submission to Jesus Christ results in joy—not oppression. Rather than remaining confined to myself in “freedom,” I choose to be connected to Jesus. For with Him comes forgiveness of sin, true peace of mind, eternal purpose—and eternal life.
Even though God’s children often ignore God’s love, the Lord affirms He will never give up on them:
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? . . . My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled. . . For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. —Hosea 11:8-9
An Invitation Worth Considering
If you have lived your life like our Nathaniel, or if you, God’s son or daughter by faith in Jesus, have wandered into your closet of rebellion, I urge you to accept the invitation to return to your heavenly Father who loves you. He waits with open arms.
God will never give up on you.