Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dennis Prager - How Did Absolom Earn His Father's Love?

Recently, I have had some physical issues, as well as some computer problems in the past week. When the personal waters have assumed a relative calm, I have intended to resurrect my Blog, if in a somewhat altered direction. But still, I have typically listened to Dennis Prager’s often provocative weekday radio program. Today in his weekly “Ultimate Issues” hour, Prager discussed the idea of forgiveness, specifically questioning as he often does, the idea of “unconditional love” as commended in Christianity. Prager insisted as others have that for Christians God’s forgiveness is in fact earned by the act of accepting Christ and his work on your behalf. Indeed, he is correct in the fact that Christians will often affirm that forgiveness is offered but not delivered in the absence of such a an individual decision.

However, while The New Testament affirms that forgiveness is assured for those who DO voluntarily accept the grace offered in Christ, and both OT and NT assert that sin is called to account, NOWHERE does The New Testament specifically say that anyone who does NOT personally confess Jesus Christ is hopelessly lost. Quickly, let me say what I am NOT suggesting: a) I am not at all discounting Prager’s overall observation that from childrens' competitions to an adult’s earning of a living, our society is ever more inclining to reward something for nothing. I entirely agree and join in his lament. But more importantly, as a Christian, b) I am not denying that Jesus Christ is the unique medium of salvation, which I affirm more emphatically.

Christians most often refer to Jesus own words.

In The King James Version familiar to many:
John 14:5-7 (King James Version)
5Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
7If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

John 14:5-7 (Contemporary English Version)
5Thomas said, "Lord, we don't even know where you are going! How can we know the way?"
6"I am the way, the truth, and the life!" Jesus answered. "Without me, no one can go to the Father. 7If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him."

I intensely believe that all who to attain eternity with God, will do so by virtue of Christ’s work, which was not historically incidental but essential and definitive of the restoration of all of creation. Many Christians may regard the posture as unorthodox, but as to identifying individually who those redeemed humans are, that is WAAAAY above my pay grade. It is OK to say that I don’t know. As I once told a friend who asked about a friend who had died, what I do know is that no injustice will befall him. Christians are charged to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to others, but that is not good news only about a life after death: it is good news about life HERE AND NOW. And, the indispensable surrender to God of human beings is not that of their deeds. It is a humility such that might recognize who is sovereign and certainly who is not: human beings. Prager rightly observed that faith in Christ is subsequently evidenced in the fruit of behavior. But, that is service due an acknowledged master, not recompense for Christ’s work, which is literally the height of a futile idea.

It is more than a mere metaphor when scripture refers to God as father. God doesn’t love us for our deeds. God loves us because we are His children, literally his progeny. Years ago, I explained to our children that we will always love them and care for their welfare because they are our children. As most all lessons have Biblical models, I related to them two Bible accounts: 0ne from The New Testament and one from The Old Testament. There is much to be said with respect to Jesus’ claim that He came not to condemn the law, but to fulfill it. The elements and the prefiguring of Jesus pervade historical Judaism in what Christians now call The Old Testament. The graciousness toward the outsider commended by Christianity is in the instruction to the ancient Israelites of how to treat “the alien.” God gave the son of the promise, as Abraham was spared of doing. Jesus himself is the Passover Lamb. These are only among the tall monuments.

The New Testament account I related to my kids was the well-known tale related by Jesus that is called, “The Prodigal Son.” The son leaves the father’s house and ways, pursuing self-indulgent and wasteful living. But, when that way leads to desolation and despair and he realizes that his father’s servants fare better than he is, the son determines to return home. His father sees him approaching and runs out to meet him and “falls on his neck” and kisses him. The son says that he has sinned and does not deserve to be called his son. But, the father says to bring him the best attire and to prepare the fatted calf for a feast, for “my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

The Old Testament account is if anything more stark: David’s son Absolom not only forsook his father the King, but organized a rebellion and plot to overthrow his father’s kingdom. When amid the execution of that plan, Absolem is killed, David cries out, “Oh Absolom, Absolom, my son, my son! Would God that I had died instead of you!” How is that not unconditional love? And, can’t most parents of even the barest character relate to the horror of loss of even the most craven and/or spiteful child? Look at both of these stories in Luke 15 and II Samuel 15 for anything hinting at the son’s earning of the father’s love. Quite to the contrary in both cases, the entire point of both stories is the son’s lack of merit of the father’s expression. In both cases, it is just that aspect that is the moving and compelling point of the story.