N.T. Wright once wrote that the parable we call “The Prodigal Son” could have just as easily (and perhaps more meaningfully) been called “The Running Father.” Wright points out that in the culture in which Jesus tells that story, older men, such as the Father in this parable, typically guard their dignity in various symbolic ways, one of which is to NEVER be seen running. Not even walking too fast. Thus part of the shock of that story is how this heartsick Father watching the horizon everyday, hoping against hope to see his boy, at the moment when he finally does, throws caution and dignity to the wind and goes RUNNING to greet the boy upon his return.
The parable of The Prodigal Son is one of the most famous passages in the Bible, known to believers and nonbelievers alike, and rightly so. It is a powerful depiction of the self-sacrificial LOVE of God. In fact it captures in a snapshot the character of God and his LOVE for his lost children. A remarkable image and story for anybody. How much more for those of us who adhere our lives to this Father and seek to order his world with his LOVE?
I can’t help but think how the story of The Prodigal Son would change if that Father had read Corbett and Fikkert’s best selling Christian book When Helping Hurts.
The Father would still love the wayward son, of course, but he would do so wisely and “effectively” instead of recklessly and in ways that “enable” and do harm to the boy he wants to “help.”
That boy comes to his senses while still in a far off land. He thinks to himself that his lot in life will improve if he returns to his Father, not with the sense of entitlement of a son, but rather hoping just to be put to work earning his keep among the hired help! This is exactly the seedbed for a rehabilitative work program. THIS is how you teach your kid the value of a dollar! Let him get a job! Talk about Will-Work-For-Food? The boy has practically scrawled such a message on a cardboard placard and carried it back to the street corner near his Father’s house. But the Father of Luke-15 ain’t havin’ it.
But don’t let the small, insignificant, tiny/little fact that symbolically this Father represents God in all his LOVE and WISDOM get in the way here.
No. If this Father had read Corbett and Fikkert, he would see just how sensible it is when this boy comes to his senses in all that desperation of that foreign land! This is how the boy will, given enough time, learn responsibility and stewardship so that maybe, maybe, maybe he will finally one day be fit for life in God’s Kingdom Come!
So, the When-Helping-Hurts Father drives by the corner and sees the bum who used to be his own son holding a placard which says “Will Work For Food” and has compassion on the boy, pulls over and offers the boy a job! The boy can start off at the bottom and work his way up. After all, in this life, there ain’t no free rides! In fact, since the boy is probably hungry, he will need to eat, but the Father will set up a tab which the boy will be required to pay back at interest which will ensure that the boy learns the value of hard work and which when, once paid off, he will be self sufficient, independent, and have the dignity that comes with such things! (Never mind passages of Scripture such as Exod. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-37 or Deut. 23:19-20.)
Lord knows, if the boy gets too much help with this stuff, it will do harm to him! He will never learn!! He will never have the dignity of independence and self sufficiency!!! He will never be fit to live in God’s Kingdom Rule!!!!
Thus the When-Helping-Hurts Father would never run to his son and discard his own dignity to celebrate the return of his lost son!
No. Instead, he will walk very slowly to the boy and do the very minimum things to help so as not to put any of this very “effective” charity in any jeopardy.
Corbett and Fikkert actually improve God!
(I wouldn’t stand too close to such blasphemy, personally speaking. Maybe if you have a copy of When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, you should burn it. Just sayin’.)