Have you ever been called in to see your boss? Maybe when you were little you got called into the principle’s office? Can you hear your mom calling you from the other side of the house? Yep that is your dad yelling “come here Jimmy.” Or maybe it isn’t a “superior” but a “peer” who is calling. Is your sister on the phone? Is it your best friend? Is it a co-worker? When you see their number on your phone or hear their voice or get their note…”they want to see you right now” or “I have to talk to you” or “this can’t wait any longer” or “you better hurry.” What is going on in your head? You are creating a story.
If you are like me and have always felt a twinge of guilt running in the background then the story is not a good one. Or maybe you are a “good little boy or girl” and your story is different. Maybe you are a problem solver and not a problem finder, so your story is different from mine but I bet most people start with “oh no, what has happened, what have I done, what is wrong now?”
Our reaction to that story running in our heads depends on our wiring and our experience. For me I am already thinking of ways to fix whatever is wrong or apologize for my mess or “how do I just get it over with?” Others might be in a defensive mode. They may already be trying to justify themselves, get their story straight or build a defense. Really, there is a little (or a lot) of both of those in all of us.
Rob Bell in his book “Love Wins” talks about “a better story.” Check it out. It is a short book and well worth the read. Let me share my takeaways…I hope they encourage you.
The “good Father” parable is probably the most telling “story” Jesus shares with us. Most have called it the “prodigal son” parable but I believe “the good Father” is a better title. Maybe you remember the parable but in a nutshell there is a younger brother who is restless and wants to get away from home and be on his own. The good father breaks tradition and gives the younger son his inheritance in an equivalent amount of money. The older brother gets his share as the “farm.” The younger boy heads off and wastes his money on pleasure. He ends up destitute and hungry. He ends up feeding pigs and sharing their food to survive. He gets homesick and imagines “his dad isn’t that bad after all” and would likely be kind enough to make him a servant. At least then he would get fed. He is telling himself a story….
The younger is telling himself a story about himself and his father. In this story the father rejects him as a son but might accept him as a servant. This son doesn’t feel he deserves anything from his father but hopes for the best. In his story his father is “good” or at least “kind” and the son is “not good” and “not worthy” enough to be the father’s son anymore. He hopes for the best but expects nothing.
When the younger returns home the father has a different story for the younger son…he has a better story. In the father’s version the younger has been missed and has always been his lost son. He has been away from the “life” of his provision and love and sonship. The younger son’s story is riddled with doubt. The father’s version is overflowing with acceptance and assurance. The younger son, despite his best intentions, doesn’t get to live in his story anymore. He is presented with the better story and chooses to accept the father’s version. The party begins. The son is home. The lost has been found. The “dead” has been raised. Yay!
The older brother has a story also. In his story the father is stingy and “too easy” on his younger brother. To the older the father is a task master and slave driver who is hard. He has lived in this version of his story for so long he cannot and will not participate in the party at all, no way. He is furious at the thought of letting the younger off the hook. His father however has a better story for the older. In the father’s story the older has everything that belongs to the father. In reality when the inheritance was split, the older got the farm so literally he has everything. Still he can’t see it. The father gives the older what he gave the younger…acceptance and assurance. The older brother however rejects the better story.
Rob Bell says that hell is to “reject the better story.” When we are presented with God’s version of the story and reject it…it is hell for us now and then. Just like this parable we are all in heaven and hell at the same time now and then. Our acceptance of our loving Father’s story is our reality in that existence. We can live in the Heaven of accepting and participating in His story (which is a party by the way) or we can stomp around in the “outer darkness” choosing our version of the story instead of His. Will we choose well?
Another thing I see in this parable is how “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” The Father’s story is the same for each of his sons. Can you see it? In the father’s version, both boys are completely and totally and unconditionally accepted and assured. Our Abba’s unearthly assurance for us is His story for us. Notice how each react to the “same” love. One son accepts, “dies to his story” and participates in his “salvation” of acceptance and assurance. The younger is enjoying the party. The older rejects the father’s version and insists instead on his own version. He is “saved” but not participating in his “salvation.”
How often do we see this “story” in our lives today? How often are we the younger or the older? How often do we resist “dying” to have our own way and tell our own story. The ironic truth is His story is AWESOME and it is for us and about us and completely unconditionally perfect in Love and acceptance and assurance. His story is a party. We aren’t giving anything up. We are living His life. We aren’t missing out on anything but are instead stepping out of hellish reality and into heavenly kingdom.
Let me leave you with a few “cautions.” It is easy to put on our religious, good-bad fruit, judgment hats and say “well of course if you give up _____ your life will be better.” There is truth in that statement. There is a reaping and sowing part of this parable. The younger is “misbehaving” and reaps the consequences. That isn’t the central theme of the story. This is why we should call it the “good Father” parable. The central theme is the Father’s story. The beauty of what Jesus is revealing is that no matter how bad it gets, how far we have fallen, how lost we are…HE IS THERE accepting us and giving us assurance. The caution is found in the older brother’s story. He doesn’t know the heart of his Father. He doesn’t accept the unconditional love of his father. This should be the “big red flag” of this parable for us. There is an outer darkness and a hellish existence and an outside the party. God will let us have that reality. God will let us live our story if we reject His story for us. It looks very much like religion and insistence on being right (self-righteousness) and defensive reactions and presentations of perfect behavior and all of that junk.
I know there are many that have grown up like the older brother. Maybe you see the younger all over the place and are not happy that they “get off so easy.” Maybe you see it as “not fair” and “not just.” Who is outside the party??? Maybe it is time for us all to just let it go and give in to a God who is not fair by any measure or metric or data. He is absolutely and completely unfair by our standards. He is love. I mean that crazy, irrational kind of love that has Him letting us kill Him just to prove His love for us.
So will you let Him tell you “a better story?” He has one for you. It begins and ends with Jesus.