What makes a good father? That has been a question on my mind, more so of late. In preparation to have my first child, this thought was one that near consumed me at times. And now that Jamieson is here and healthy and growing faster than I could imagine, this question is still constantly on my mind. Am I a good father? Am I doing all that a father is created and supposed to do? While there is alot of information out there on the world wide web, bookstores, blogs, and elsewhere on fathering, I believe there is one story that gives the best picture of good father.
This story is a well known one, told many times, over many years, by many different people. But it’s not so much how much, who, or how it has been told that matters as much as who first told the story. It’s a story of two sons and one father. It’s a fictional story. It’s a story told by none other than Jesus Christ himself. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. It’s a story not so much about two awful sons, but about one amazing Father. In the story we see the first son’s demand, the second son’s displeasure, and the Father’s demeanor.
The story begins with the Father’s first son demanding his inheritance. In middle eastern culture at that time, the son is essentially saying to the father, “Dad, I wish you were dead, so I could have my money and spend it how I want, and when I want” (aka – right now). The son does not ask or request, but simply demands from Dad what he wants. He thinks he deserves it because of who he is. Dad gives him his demand and off the son goes to a “far country”. I find it interesting that the son does not merely take his inheritance and spend it locally, but also runs what seems like as far away as he can get. The son was not just wanting money, he was wanting to get away from the family. But what does the son do with his inheritance? He squanders it quickly in “reckless living”. And ironically enough, soon after the money is gone, trouble hits. A famine arises and the son finds himself, because of his lack of goods, desiring to be fed with the pigs. But this brother is not alone, he just so happens to have an older brother.
The older brother, while not as outwardly foolish, shows his inward displeasure toward Dad as well. Soon after a rather bizarre turn of events (more on this later), the elder son comes to Dad’s estate angry and unwilling to speak with his Father. While this son is not spending the family inheritance in reckless living, he has been searching for the family inheritance in self-centered labor. He thinks he deserves it because of what he’s done. All these years this son, who it seems was faithfully working for Dad, has really just been longing to attain the inheritance of his Father through his work. This son has been focusing on himself, his obedience, his hard work, and his labor all while thinking he was earning his keep. So when Dad has graciously given to the demanding son and now accepted him back graciously as well, the displeased son can take no more. It all seems so unfair and unjust.
It is at this point in the story, we better appreciate the Father’s peculiar demeanor. As we look back at the story, we see that it is the Father who entreated and embraced both of his son’s in their worst moments (vs. 20, 28). With the younger son, the Father ran to him, even though the son probably still smelled of pig and had none of the family inheritance remaining. And with the elder son, who was still fuming about what he never got that he should of for his years of toil, the Father came out and entreated him to join the celebration. He graciously entreated and embraced his children regardless of their actions.
So what is it that we can learn about good fathering? A good father is one who graciously entreats and embraces his children regardless of their actions.
Is this not what the heavenly Father has done for each of us? The Father is precisely the person Jesus is pointing us to in this story. Despite the well known title of the parable (The Prodigal Son), it is not about the son (either of them) but about the gracious, merciful, and forgiving Father. It is meant to represent the heavenly Father that God is. It is meant to show us His compassion, grace, and mercy. But lest we fall into thinking God is merciful, gracious, and loving at no cost and will accept anyone back regardless, let us not forget the One and Only Son He sacrificed and gave up and punished in our place. The reason the heavenly Father can run to, entreat, and embrace each one of us, who are sinners by nature and volition, is because our sin and shame was laid upon His perfect, righteous, and sinless Son, Jesus Christ.
So let me end by saying thanks to my dad. Dad, thanks so much for being a father who loved me, disciplined me, entreated me, embraced me, and showed me love and mercy. But most of all, thanks for being a dad who showed me that the greatest Father I could ever have and the Father by whom I truly needed to be embraced was God. I love you, Dad…and I pray that I will be as good of a father as you were for me and reflect our heavenly Father to your grandchildren the way you reflected Him to me.