I can’t think of a more painful statement from a father than what Johnny Cash got from his dad.
It went like this. While growing up, Johnny had an older brother named Jack. Jack was so religious and interested in the Bible that, understandably, the father favored Jack. He thought he would be proud to have a preacher in the family.
Jack took a job that involved cutting wood to augment the family income. In a gruesome accident, an unguarded electric saw cut through his stomach and all the way to his groin. He died one week later.
Devastated, the father told Johnny, “I wish it were you instead of Jack.”
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be sliced in half by that electric saw. Johnny Cash was haunted by those words ever since.
Many people suffer from stingy dads: stingy with his presence, his love, his affirmation. And it hurts. It really hurts.
So what can I offer? It is to view God as a generous Father.
Unfortunately, people with stingy dads tend to project this stinginess to God Himself. They think God is either stingy in mercy (just one teeny weeny infraction will land you in hellfire and brimstone) or in blessings (Why am I not rich? Why did this other guy get the promotion and not me? Why aren’t my prayers answered?).
This is the false narrative which we have to call out and replace with the Biblical narrative: God is generous beyond imagination. Jesus painted such a generous God in the well-known parable of the prodigal son.
The younger son demanded from his father his due inheritance. In effect, it was a colossal insult meaning “Dad, I wish you were dead.” The dad could have cursed or banished the son but amazingly, he divided his estate between this son and the elder brother, and gave the son what he wanted.
As we know, the son went off to a faraway country and squandered his inheritance. Then when his money ran out and a famine fell on the land, he got a job in a pigsty (he’s Jewish, in case you missed it). The swine were eating better than he, so he came to his senses and headed back home.
Along the way, he had planned to tell his dad, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” Theologian Kenneth Bailey said there is the subtext of “and I will pay you back what I have squandered.”
While the son was a long way off, the father saw the son, ran to him, embraced him (pigsty perfume and all), and showered him with kisses. The son started his spiel, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…”
Some Biblical texts paint the father as cutting his son off in mid-sentence. If the son were to ask to be demoted as a houseboy, the father would have none of it.
Now get this: the father could have exacted justice and “what is fair.” He could have demanded the son to somehow return the squandered family fortune. But instead, the father told his servants to put a robe, a ring, and sandals on the son. Then he ordered the fatted calf to be butchered and they had a party!
Where was the elder son? Outside, sulking! When the father went out of his way and pleaded with him to join the celebration, the elder son spat, “Look! All these years I have been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. But you never gave me even a little goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”
Do you see that? The elder son thought he had a stingy dad! And that made him a bitter, miserable, resentful fellow.
The parable ended with another clue how generous the dad was. He told the elder son, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.” The elder son harbored a grudge against his dad for holding out on him, yet it seemed that’s because he never even asked his dad for that goat!
Are you still hurting from something your dad did or didn’t do to you? Was it something your dad had said that, metaphorically like that electric saw, cut you to the bone? Perhaps it happened ages ago, but it still hurts as if it happened only yesterday.
The salve for the broken heart is to reflect on God’s goodness. That despite what you think or what you see, He really is loving, kind, and generous. The Apostle John gushed, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
But there is a condition. We are children of God only by faith in Jesus, the One who gave this parable. Even this is Exhibit A of God’s generosity. We didn’t deserve to be His children, but He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. Being God’s beloved is not some position we have to earn, but an identity received by faith (John 1:12).
I do pray that the person reading this blog will find solace in this good and beautiful God. I do not deny the heartache, I am not telling you to “move on”. But I do want to share the Good News that the Father you desperately long for exists. Even if you are still a long way off, just head towards Him, and He will cover the rest of the distance.
Yes, He’s that generous!