You are probably familiar with the the story of the prodigal son. Using this parable, Jesus aptly expresses the concept of God's love [the gospel].
This story of the prodigal son is, at the very center, a story of interpersonal relationships. What's going on with the son, the father, the two brothers and the family members looking on? As the storyline opens we see that from the very beginning it's all about the relationship. As the father contemplates giving his inheritance to his son he is running through his mind all of the scenarios - will he invest it wisely, will he squander every penny? For those of us who are parents of older children, we would not have to think too hard about what we know our children would do. Because we have seen their heart in different situations we could probably predict the outcome fairly accurately. So it is with this father. But the astonishing thing is that his decision has nothing to do with what he knows to be true. As he was considering what to do don't you think he was trying to withstand every argument in his mind that pleaded to hang on to the money; to prevent problems if he could, to make it safe for his son?
Theologian William Hordern in his rich study Living by Grace writes:
Thus at the beginning of the parable the father faces a choice. He is not compelled to give the inheritance to the son and probably the father understood his son well enough to know that once the boy was on his own with the money in his pocket, there would be trouble. No doubt the father's heart longed to prevent the problems that he could see hanging over his son's head. And it would have been easy to do so. The prodigal does not appear to have been the type who would have gone off without the means to pay his way. The father could very simply have refused to turn over the inheritance.
But if he had taken that course
he would not have had a son,
he would have had a slave.
In short, the father knew that the only hope of having a father-son relationship between himself and his son was to take the gamble of giving the son the inheritance. It might not work; the boy might forever leave the father and go his own way. But there was the chance that he would freely and willingly return to the father-son relationship.
As we later read, the father freely receives his son as he returns home having spent himself and squandered his inheritance. Hordern explains:
Although the free forgiveness of the father is a gamble that may not work, the alternatives are certain not to result in the relationship sought by the father, even though they may result in better external behavior.
While the law will almost certainly produce good behavior and immediate results that disguise themselves with blessing and peace and order and calm, the law does not have the power to produce a genuine expression of love. Only the unconditionality of the gospel produces the motivation to freely love, freely respond and freely interact. In speaking of the marriage relationship Hordern comments:
A happy marriage, for example, cannot be maintained by the penalties involved in the marriage laws of the nation. Such laws may keep a man and wife together, but they cannot possibly give rise to the free expression of love which is necessary for a happy marriage.
I will be the first to admit this is hard to grasp.
It just does not come naturally!
Our world is based on conditionality.
You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
I Have Loved The Law
As I have wrestled with this over the last several months and even in recent weeks God is showing me more and more the myriad of ways I approach my relationships with conditions. I have actually been loving the law - it has been to me a security blanket, an anchor in the storms of life and a refuge when things get chaotic. The only problem is it doesn't work...at least not in the long run. No change of heart, no lasting transformation and no inward conversion - only temporary, outward defiant modification. Blech!
I think the story of the prodigal son resonates with me because I'm the mom of an adult son. At the end of the day my desire as a parent is that my son would not hear me say "If you love me, obey me." Instead he would hear "I love you even if you don't obey"; "My love for you does not depend on what you do or don't do".