Always Side-By-Side

I’ve shared this numerous times, I know. Still, I repeat that my favorite portrayal of God is offered in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient, welcoming and forgiving father who opens his arms to his children, regardless of their carrying on, is something I’ve held dearly all of my life. It is this image of God as our loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear.

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of such intimacy. When we open our hearts to others, we hide nothing from them. Neither pretenses nor formalities get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue into full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I find myself faced with the reality that I’m not perfect. When this happens, I remind myself that God has been aware of this reality all along. In spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent love. Because God loves me -and all of us- so completely, I approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibits in a passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham speaks he finds God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrays this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walk side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he is in the presence of God, Abraham bargains for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though God’s apparent anger is in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festers in the two cities, God listens to Abraham. First, Abraham pleads that the cities be spared if there are just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, he begs for forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty and ten innocent lives. Each time, God responds sympathetically. The chapter that follows tells us that God has Abraham’s plea in mind when God spares the lives of Lot and his family. God also knows the hearts of evildoers and the reasons they do what they do. God loves them as well. You know, God’s mercy is never lost on anyone.

In Luke’s gospel (11:1-13), Jesus refers his disciples to the God with whom Abraham is so familiar. Luke tells us that Jesus has just finished praying himself when the disciples ask him to teach them to pray. Jesus responds with the Lord’s Prayer. After offering this lesson, Jesus goes on to make his instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. If the disciples have forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminds them in no uncertain terms. Jesus tells his friends of a man who responds to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus continues, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus goes on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” The God of Abraham continues to listen!

It occurs to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father embracing his wayward son. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the young man separates himself from his father while he lives sinfully and squanders his inheritance. Though this young man is always in his father’s thoughts, he is isolated and far away in his darkest moments. When this son finally comes to his senses, he can only hope that his father will take him back as a hired hand. In today’s passage from Genesis, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God face-to-face. Apparently, Abraham finds this to be perfectly normal. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham is also perfectly and wonderfully normal for you and me. Though the prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. Yes, even today, the God of Abraham listens.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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