For years, Ron fought overwhelming pain from feeling cut off from his father. His dad, following his divorce, had moved far away and rarely contacted him. In counseling, I would have helped Ron explore a relationship with his dad, but his dad had since died. Thus, Ron's "father hunger" only reminded him of his great loss. It only created pain. A painful experience of many men and women I've counseled. I tried to assure Ron that God understood his pain, that he longed to shape a father-son relationship with him, to "refather" him. But Ron was skeptical, for he never learned how to move toward a father. Moreover, he knew little about God's nature. So I pointed Ron to Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. For the prodigal's father offers striking insights into the character of God and a relationship with him. Eventually, Ron caught on. He moved toward God as Father. I have seen many experience this same fulfillment of their "eternal Father-hunger."
The prodigal's story is well known. The son, having left home for a distant land, lost half his father's estate in wild living. Living with pigs, he finally came to his senses, committed to a new life, and decided to return home. Jesus continued with the story: "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him,'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants,'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again'" (Luke 15:20-24). The son expected to be relegated to the place of a hired man, one who must earn the right to stay. But his father did not see it that way. Seeing his son from a distance, the father could have waited inside, licking his wounds from losing half his estate and protecting his dignity. Instead, with a heart full of compassion, he ran to him. Imagine the son's shock when he saw his father running toward him. His amazement grew when his father kissed him. The Greek verb means "kissed him many times" or "kissed him tenderly." This was not perfunctory politeness, but a greeting of passion. This reminds me of a moving event in sports history. Pat Cash, a 22 year old from Australia, upset Ivan Lendl in three straight sets for the men's singles title at Wimbledon. Instead of following the traditional ceremony, he unexpectedly headed from Centre Court for the lower spectator stands. As surprised spectators looked on, Pat bounded up the steps until he reached the roof of a TV booth. He looked for a way to scale it to get to where his father waited in the player's box. After Pat scaled it and stepped into the box, he and his dad flung their arms around each other and embraced with such passion that many, including the TV announcer, were brought to tears. This is a picture of how the father passionately greeted his son...and how God greets us. Bearing the scent of the pigpen, the son had lost everything. Yet his father did not say,"Work in the fields and mend fences for six months. Then I'll receive you back." Such love would have been conditional, based on performance. Instead, along with warmly kissing him, the father gave him a new robe, ring, and sandals. A feast was thrown to celebrate their reunion, for the father's love was tough and enduring. Clearly, Jesus portrayed God the Father through the prodigal's father. The Father is always waiting with tough, enduring love for the wayward to come home. When we do, he dashes toward us with love. He kisses us repeatedly and tenderly. Our Father gives us a new robe, ring, and sandals to signity our new bond with him.