Two little girls were discussing their Sunday School lesson while coming home after church one day. One asked, “Do you believe in the Devil?” The other promptly responded, “No, of course not. It’s just like Santa Claus – he’s your father.” Hmm. Happy Fathers’ Day.
I can picture something else like that. Think of a four-year-old coming home one Sunday after a lesson that taught about God as our Heavenly Father. Sound theology would quickly note that God is neither male nor female, but youngsters do not concern themselves with theological niceties. A four-year-old hears “Father;” the only father he knows anything about is the one that lives with him and says, “Pass the biscuits, please;” so he asks…” Is God like Daddy?” Wow! What a heavy load! But a good load to consider on Fathers’ Day…and a good one to consider when we realize that what Daddy is can become a role model for our children’s concept of God.
Is God like Daddy? Quite a question.
Recall the story Jesus told that we all know as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” The father of the prodigal son is a good man to consider on this Fathers’ Day. Neither one of the sons were particularly special, but Dad was quite a man.
He was obviously understanding. His younger boy comes to him and says, “Listen, I am tired of living in this fish bowl. You are one of the big shots in this town, everybody knows who I am because of you. I cannot do anything around here without somebody asking ‘Does your father approve?’ I am tired of it and want to get out. Give me what I figure to inherit and let me be done with this lousy place.”
The Dad acceded to the son’s wishes – and was quite generous as well. When the boy asked for his portion of the inheritance, it was given to him. In that part of the world, the second son was given one-half of what the first son was given. In this case, we are probably talking about one-third of the estate of a man who was fairly well off, because during the course of the account, there are references to well-fed servants, robes, rings, shoes and banquets. It is safe to assume that Junior rode off from the old homestead with quite a haul.
Jesus’ story paints a picture of a loving and generous father.
But along with the understanding and generosity, there was a deep, deep concern. If the story were set today, I could envision Dad coming to Mother and asking, “Anything in the mail today?” “Just two bills, a letter from my sister and a reminder from the church that pledge Sunday is coming up.” “Nothing from Junior?” “No…still nothing.” His concern grew to such an extent that each afternoon he would go out to the end of his driveway and peer off in the distance…hoping that, by some miracle, he would see his boy coming back to him. And then, finally, one day it happened.
That lone figure way off down the road…almost unrecognizable as the son who had left the home. He was dressed in rags instead of a fine suit. The shoes he had worn were long since gone. The rings and jewels that were part of his inheritance had long ago been sold to buy food. Then when those ran out, he had taken a job slopping hogs. It did not pay him enough even to keep body and soul together. He would have been happy to have been able to eat what the pigs had. But, of course, that is what drove him back home…a shadow of the young man who had left not all that long ago.
I can see the face of that father…eyes getting as wide as dinner plates, the jaw dropping and suddenly being completely enveloped in the biggest smile anyone could imagine. Then the run down the road, as fast as those aging legs could carry him. The weary young man just standing and staring at the sight approaching him, then when Dad finally arrived, throwing his arms about the boy and saying, “Welcome home, son!”
When the boy could finally get a few words out, he tried to apologize and ask forgiveness for having sinned against God and his Dad and then asked to be able to come home and live as one of the servants, but Pop would have none of it. There was no question of forgiveness. All Junior had to do was turn his young face toward home, and forgiveness was his just for wanting to return to the family.
It’s a beautiful picture of what God expects a father to be and what we can expect of God as our Heavenly Father…love, understanding, generosity, concern, forgiveness, and so much more. If God is like Daddy, Daddy had to be all of those things.
But there is one more note for earthly fathers in this parable. When Junior finally came to his senses, when he realized how much he was missing, he intuitively knew the cause…sin. The words of the scripture are “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.” Perhaps “intuitively” is not the proper word, because I suspect that more than intuition was involved.
This was the kind of home in which the concept of sin and its consequences would have been taught to that boy from his childhood. His father was not like so many today who shy away from any sort of religious education for their children. They say they do not want to force anything down their kids’ throats. “Wait till they get older, then let them make up their own minds.” Well, bunk! If the Prodigal’s father had felt that way, the boy might still be in the pig sty without any idea of what put him there in the first place
But he was not. He would have been the kind of Dad who would have taken his boys to Sunday School and Church, not just sent them. He would have helped out with the Youth Group and served on the Vestry. He would never have indicated that he valued secular education more highly than that received at church. Just because it rained on a Monday, that would be no excuse for skipping school; and by the same token, a rainy Sunday would be no excuse for missing church. His system of values would have been obvious.
Of course, I do not know all this. After all, this is a parable. But I think we can reasonably assume those things because that is the kind of man the father is presented to be.
There is one other thing that I do not know, but that I like to assume anyway. I think the Prodigal Son would have turned out to be a pretty fine fellow. Over and over again through history we hear stories of wayward sons coming to their senses because of the influence of their fathers during their early life. There are others who were never particularly wayward, but still say they became what they did because of their fathers.
Reinhold Niebuhr was the son of a minister. One afternoon, while walking home with his father from a local celebration, his father asked, “Have you thought, Reinhold, about what you want to be?” “Yes.” “What?” “A minister.” “Why?” “Because you are the most interesting man in town.” Niebuhr became one of the most thoughtful and articulate theologians of this century.
As that old saying goes, “No matter how you teach a child, he insists on behaving like his parents.”
A poem by Herbert Parker says it well:
His little arms crept round my neck, and then I heard him say,
Four simple words I can’t forget, four words that made me pray.
They turned a mirror on my soul, on secrets no one knew,
They startled me, I hear them yet, he said, “I’ll be like you.”
What an awesome responsibility! Fatherhood. We present our children in baptism and promise to raise them in the knowledge and love of God, then too often we forget that as our sons and daughters grow and learn, they come to that question, “Is God like Daddy?”