Devotion Twenty Nine
This past Sunday, the story of the Prodigal Son, or Prodigal Father, was read in church. Like any good parable there are many meanings in the story. It keeps on giving.
One thing we might see in the story is the character of God expressed through the father in the story. First, the father gives the son the freedom to make mistakes. We know about that. Then when the son returns, the father is ready – already searching the horizon, expectant, faithful, not giving up. Upon seeing the son from far off, we are told that the father runs to meet the son, throws his arms around him, and kisses him. The son pours out his confession and the father makes no immediate reply. He is busy with the servants arranging for a party.
The way God is portrayed in this story seems quite different than the portrayal of God in many of the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Yes, God gives the people the freedom to go astray and they do. But there are punishments. There are wars. There are hostile take overs. There is the exile. There is servitude. There is ranting and raving from God.
We don’t see this side of the character of God in the parable of the Prodigal or really from Jesus at all in the gospels. So, what has happened? Has God changed? We are told in the Bible that God never changes. Here are a few examples:
Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the God of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
So, if God does not change, why do we get such a different portrayal of God in the Prodigal story compared with the Hebrew Testament? I think part of why we see a different portrayal of God is because humanity is developing and changing and evolving. God may not be not changing but we are.
Many things have happened over the last 2000 years of human experience. And we know that there will be much more change over the next 2000 years and beyond. So we should expect our understanding of God, our concepts of God, and our images of God, to continue to change and evolve. We should be looking for new ways to talk about and express our experiences of the ever present power of Divine Love in our lives and in the world. As science brings us greater knowledge and understanding of the world and of life as well as greater awareness of the mysteries of Creation, our expressions of faith should be changing and growing. As our knowledge of our species increases and we come to know ourselves better, there should be new ways that we engage with the reality of God.
“God” may never change, but in the wildness of mercy, let’s hope that we do not stop changing; that we continue to become more generous, loving, compassionate, peaceable, and just. More like the ever emerging image of God.
Looking back on your life, do you notice how your ideas and impressions of God have changed? Can you see how your faith has changed and adapted over the years? May we foster our growing and changing faith as it brings us ever closer to God and to one another. Amen.