I had this thought today — In Luke 15, first we have a shepherd who values the one lost sheep and goes and hunts for it. This image, perhaps, is a Shepherd-God who hunts, searches, looks, seeks out, protects, carries — even if the “sheep” doesn’t know it needs finding, doesn’t know it is lost. A God so determined maybe the other 99 sheep are now in danger because He left them “in the wilderness”?
Then we have a woman who searches diligently for a lost coin. She isn’t rushing about — she has a careful plan, lights a lamp to help see the gleam of metal in the dark house, and uses a broom to sweep. As an image of God, she isn’t leaving others in danger or going into the wilderness — she knows the coin must be on the floor somewhere and so she uses logic and effort until it is found.
Finally, we have the Father who had two sons, perhaps another image of God. He does not search out the prodigal son even when he’s in danger of dying of hunger — but the father is ready with love, care, and rejoicing when the prodigal returns. The father does go out to plead with the older son. But he isn’t forcing either son. He is a father of amazing love and generosity who is ready to pour that out, in abundance, but he isn’t using force.
So sometimes: God will find us in danger and lift us up; God will carefully hunt for us even in the dark; sometimes God will just wait until we return to ourselves, wait until we are ready to join the party, and then lavish us with love.
We all wonder, I think, how does God work. If He’s doing good, why is there so much hate and horror and terrible things going on, like today’s newspaper headlines? If He isn’t doing good, why not? The problem of evil is well above my pay grade. This world is good but not perfected — it is “all ready and not yet” saved, redeemed, reborn. But — then these horrible things? So perhaps sometimes, like with sheep, He saves us, restores us, and we don’t even know we were lost. Although there were plenty of other sheep, the lost one was not ignored or forgotten or written off. Perhaps sometimes God (in some way) is methodically sweeping for a glint of gold in the darkness, something of value, no bit of value too small, to lift up, to save? Perhaps sometimes God is waiting — patiently, hopefully, fully awake — waiting for us to just come home. Waiting for us to join the party. And perhaps like all metaphors or images this isn’t enough or isn’t quite right or is going too far or just doesn’t make sense all the time. Because sometimes things just don’t seem to make sense.
The older brother needs to forgive, turn his thoughts around, and in many ways this seems to me harder than the prodigal coming home. The older brother has to forgive and be reconciled; in joy, because his brother is alive again. Let us remember there is no ending to the parable. But the Father is waiting, arms open.