Most people who’ve read the Bible – and probably many who haven’t – know the story of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus in the New Testament.
The story is about two sons, but centres on the younger son who goes to his father and asks for his share of his estate – which essentially means he wished him dead.
The father, graciously, allows this, and the younger son goes and squanders his money with crazy partying, wild living and reckless choices. He ends up with no money, feeding pigs on a farm somewhere, totally lost, and when he is feeding the pigs he realises that he’s made a big mistake and comes home, with the intention of offering to become a hired hand of his father.
Instead, his father runs and embraces him and welcomes him back into the home, and kills the fatted calf – which you only saved for special occasions, and makes him a full part of his family again.
Now the older brother comes on the scene and is, at the very least, upset. He has seen his younger brother squander his inheritance and then come back and given his fathers welcolme and embrace. He’s most likely going to lose some of his inheritance because his younger brother is back and feels cheated and unfairly treated by his father, and tells him so.
His father then answers him, telling him that everything he has belongs to him, but that it is right to celebrate because his son has returned and is back safe and alive again.
So, of course, as it’s a Christian story, the son goes back, forgives his father and his brother, and its all happy ever after.
Except its not.
Jesus doesn’t end the story with a happy ever after. He leaves it unresolved.
We don’t know what happens to the older brother, how he responds to his father and his brother. We don’t know if the younger brother stays repentant and sticks to his word.
There’s no resolution.
Jesus just leaves the story hanging in the air.
There are things we never find out.
I heard that story again recently and this unresolved ending stood out for me. I think there are reasons this story is unresolved.
I think its because often we want all the answers as Christians. There are Christians whose security can come from having all the right theological or Biblical answers, there are people who call themselves Christians who attack others because their theology is a bit different, or because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
They often say its down to them not being ‘Biblically or theologically correct’ but is it?
The very reason we fell as human beings is because we wanted to know everything, we wanted to be equal with God, we didn’t trust Him enough to let Him handle the knowledge of good and evil which He didn’t want us to have or make us with.
I’m not saying for one moment its not good to learn or gain knowledge, wisdom and understanding – indeed, in Scripture its encouraged – but what I am saying is
there are things about God we don’t need to know,
there are things about God we will never know
there has to be some element of mystery around God
we should never think we have all the answers, or presume to know the eternal destiny of anyone
God is the only one with all the answers, and if we trust Him then we will demonstrate that by accepting there are things we don’t know or understand. We will embrace mystery, we will accept that some things don’t get resolved, that we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Our job, as Christians, is to love God with everything we are and have, love one another and treat others how we would wish to be treated. It’s to take a stand for the things God would take a stand on
And its to let God do His job and not try to be or play God. Because we’re not.
I realised in thinking about this that often my security has been in knowing everything about God, or more than some people, and in making sure I was doing the right things for Him.
That’s not trust in God. That’s trusting in your perception and knowledge of God, and it leaves no room for real mystery, only a version of mystery that’s within your control.
I have come to understand that trusting in God – indeed, fearing God – is trusting that I don’t know everything about Him, that I don’t have all the answers, that God is mysterious and beyond my understanding or imagination.
It’s accepting that no matter how much Biblical and historical knowledge I have I will never have all the answers, and that there are things that God knows that I don’t need to know, and trusting that He is perfectly loving, perfectly just, perfectly good, that He’s on my side and I have nothing to fear, even if I don’t know what’s round the corner.
It’s understanding that there are some things I will never know the answers to, some questions that may never be answered but that God has the answers to – and that I don’t need to have all the answers to know God deeply and initmately.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the religious worldview – the one that is ultimately born of fear, which can create in us a need to control, a need to know all the answers so we can do the right thing to please God, or alternatively so that we can have the satisfaction of being right, and ultimately so that we can gain some kind of control of this mysterious God that we profess to worship. We can do it without even knowing we’re doing it – I did it for years without even realising it, even in some periods when I was saying Jesus wasn’t about religion but a way of life.
In our culture we are often guilty of what C.S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery’. Essentially, we now have more knowledge than our predecessors, therefore we are the experts and we have all the answers, and we therefore have the right to make decisions and judgements based on that. Its something that we see with children who get to an age where they suddenly think they know more than their parents – the problem is that its become a cultural thing, and it often rears its ugly head in Christian circles too.
We’ve recently had the ‘Wikileaks’ scandal, but do we really think that just because all these leaks have come out we have all the same information that governments do? Governements know far more about what is really going on with the world than we do, there are often things going on we know nothing about.
And we don’t need to. It’s not our job.
It’s exactly the same with our knowledge of God.
We need to let go of our religious view of God, we must accept that salvation is through Jesus and by grace, not by achievement or success or anything we do or anything we know. We must allow room for mystery, for not knowing it all, and not be afraid of asking questions of God. We need to realise that doubting God doesn’t mean we are questioning His existence, it means we have questions we want the answers to – but accepting we might not get all the answers and maybe, just maybe, we don’t need them. That’s real faith then isn’t it? When you don’t have all the answers, you don’t understand, but you do it anyway because you trust that God does and we might not need the answers or be ready for them.
Indeed, we may never need them, nor be ready for them,
We must accept that we don’t know it all and never will, and there are things about God we don’t understand. Because we’re not God.
There’s a certain freedom in this too. Yes, God wants us to take responsibility for our own lives, but ultimately we need to surrender ourselves. To allow Him to be in control. We need to ground ourselves in the truth of His love, grace, and in the truth of the cross and the resurrection. That He is above all things and knows all things, and that ultimately, He’s taken care of things even if we don’t know how or why.
Ultimately, not all stories get do resolved do they?
It doesn’t always turn out how we want. We may never know all the answers. God is the biggest mystery of all time and we should embrace and accept that, meaning that to a degree we have no idea of what the future holds.
All we can do is what we know to do, and trust God for the rest, and reconginse some things are out of our control.
Is your security really in God or is it in knowing everything about God?
Do you trust that there are things about God we may never know or understand fully, and that we don’t need to know?
Do you trust that God has all the answers even if you don’t?
You see, as this story shows us, sometimes things are just simply
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