Blake (my husband) and I have been watching the latest season of Scandal* on Netflix nearly every night for the past two weeks after we put our girls to bed. There is a character, a man in his 60s named Rowan, who is one of the most conniving, vicious characters out there. When we watched a particular episode last week largely involving him, a thought entered my mind, but I wouldn’t even entertain it, not wanting it to be possible for people to believe.
Fast-forward a couple of days, and we find ourselves digging into the father’s side of the story in the parable of the prodigal son.
I couldn’t get my initial thought while watching Scandal out of my mind, because it actually connected to this parable. (That’s right. You can learn about Jesus in all sorts of places, including a not-always-appropriate TV show.)
In the episode, Rowan, who carries the title Command, trains “sons,” meaning he seeks out young, adult men who are strong and smart, but who also have a broken past and who are completely alone. To make the young man his, Rowan detects the recruit's weakness and then uses it to break him, making him feel the opposite of smart and strong. But then Command is there. He looks his “son” in the eye and tells him he will never hurt him like he’s been hurt in the past, and that he wants him to be part of his family. The “son” now feels safe and will do anything and everything to remain loyal to Command. What the recruit doesn’t see in the beginning is that Command will only use him — to gain power and further delight in corruption. You never question, doubt or offer opinions to Command. He was there for you, so you owe him everything and, although your life isn’t your own, he allows you to actually be someone.
As these scenes played, I lost focus. People think God is like Rowan, don’t they? There are people who put God in this box, thinking he’s just out to make you his so he can control you for his own power. This is devastating.
Our world sees far too many examples of what it means to be a father by men like Rowan. Our world sees far too few examples of what it means to be a father by men like the father in the story of the prodigal son.
Here is this man, this leader, this father, who wants his sons to be his family solely for the purpose of the relationship. He longs to teach them and show them how to build a life, but all he hopes for is returned love. And he fights for this. When a son runs away, mistreating and even shaming the father, the father isn’t filled with disgust nor does he give up on his son.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
— Luke 15:20
When the son returns, knowing his place is with his father, the father runs to him. He doesn’t even wait for the son to make it all the way back. The father runs. He runs towards his son and kisses away his shame.
This is what it means to be a father. This is what it means to reflect the true Father, our God.
A father delights in his children. A father protects his children. A father is a servant to his children. A father wants a relationship with his children, so they know what love is and so they can find protections from what love is not.
If this isn’t how you see God, you’ve been given the wrong description. It hurts. It’s not an easy fix. The good news, though, is that the true Father, our God, is infinitely stronger than any earthly man. He cannot be shaken. He will never fade. He will never want you less or stop pursuing you. He wants you because he loves you. He loves you because he created you. He created you because he has purpose for you, and that purpose can only be truly fulfilled when the love of the Father is in your heart.
If you’re interested in studying the story of the prodigal son further, I couldn’t recommend Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God more to you. He has a DVD/discussion guide, as well. (Both available on Amazon!)
*Scandal is an intense television show meant only for adult viewing, and even then should be viewed with discernment.