Marcus Brigstoke, author of the book God Collar, is an agnostic, but one who wishes with all his heart that God does exist and that He is real. Brigstoke does not condemn those who believe in God, nor does he follow in their example, but he envies them. His book reeks of the unfulfillment of one who wishes to have someone to believe in and who seeks for hope beyond the grave. Despite the fact that Brigstoke’s emotional torment seems useless in the eyes of a dedicated believer, the solution to his dilemma is not as simple as it might seem. It depends a lot on what we believe about God and on the way we believe He sees us.
One cannot believe in God, and live based on this faith, unless they have first found an answer to the question: “Do I and my insignificant life matter to the One who is ‘sustaining all things by His powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3, NIV)? I who am nothing but ‘dust and ashes’ (Genesis 18:27, NIV)? I who am so fleeting and small, ‘a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (James 4:14, NIV)? What can I mean to the Almighty? What can my life and its problems mean when compared to infinity?”
Here is the answer, direct from God Himself, written in His word in the Bible: “You are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4). He follows up on this further highlighting our importance to Him: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). The change that these words produce in the soul of the person believing and receiving them, is amazing. However, no matter how powerful and true the words above are, they wait on us to receive or reject them. They will never cross the boundary of our will and choice and, as no one can take away the hope they transmit to our souls, in the same way, no one can impose their strength and love on our hearts.
Lost or prodigal?
In his time on earth, Jesus shared many parables which represented God’s relationship with us. One of the most interesting parables is often referred to as the parable of “the prodigal sun”. The parable (found in Luke 15:11-32) tells the story of a father with two sons. The younger son demands his share of the estate from the father, and once he receives it, proceeds to waste it away on ‘wild living’ in a distant country. When all the money is gone and a severe famine hits the far country, the son realises the error of his ways and devises a plan to return home – not as a son, but to potion for a job as one of his father’s hired servants. Upon returning, the father welcomes him with open arms, proclaiming “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24, NIV). He then proceeds to throw a large feast, killing the fattened calf and bringing out his best robe for his returned son. In contrast, the older son is jealous of this reception, focusing on the sins that the son committed instead of his return and repentance. The elder son complains about the killing of the fatted calf, noting that he does not even receive a young goat to celebrate with. In response, the father reiterates the faithfulness of the older brother, while highlighting the significance of the “dead” brother’s miraculous return.
The titling of this parable as the parable of “the prodigal son” is perhaps a misnomer. More accurately, the parable should be titled the parable of the “lost son” or “the parable of the dead and resurrected son”, if we take into account the father’s words. It’s appropriate to call this “the parable of the prodigal son” only if we identify ourselves with the older brother. Unfortunately, it seems that the commentators of the parable were not as interested enough in who was lost, as much as they were interested in why they were lost. The father never alludes to what was lost, but to who was lost. He has two sons, but each of them is “His only son”! The words “squandered his wealth in wild living” do not belong to the father but to the older brother, who does not mention the estranged soul of his younger brother nor the fact that by spending his fortune he actually spent himself.
The parable of the “lost son” confronts us with an inevitable choice when it comes to the way in which we look at others and even in the way in which we look at ourselves. We are given the freedom to look at ourselves or others through the eyes of the older brother. This is one of the choices that can influence our life’s destiny the most. If I look at myself or others through the father’s eyes, I see salvation. If I look at myself or others through the older brother’s eyes I see unforgivable sins and God’s abandonment.
Who is lost and why?
Jesus divides lost people into three broad categories: those who choose to be lost, those who get lost out of foolishness or unbelief, and those who get lost due to others. This division is clearly presented in Jesus’ three lost and found parables: the parable of the lost son discussed above, in which the son returns to the father; the parable of the lost sheep, in which the one lost sheep is retrieved by the shepherd who seeks it out to to complete his herd of a hundred (Luke 15:1-7, NIV); and the parable of the lost coin, in which the lost silver coin (a greek drachma equivalent of a day’s wage) is found by the woman who lost it (Luke 15:8-10, NIV).
The son is lost by choice, even if one cannot say he foresaw the consequences of his choice. The fact that one cannot foresee the consequences of one’s actions is not an excuse, but is all the more reason not to take certain decisions. The sheep is lost out of foolishness, ignorance or immaturity and the chances of it to realizing that it is lost are scarce. It suffers but does not understand anything about what has happened, nor the danger it is in. If someone will not go looking for it, if they will not find it and bring it back, it will die. Except that there, far away, out with the other ninety-nine sheep, there is Someone who notices and is willing to go out and search for the lost sheep!
He does not only think and feel this way, but He also gets up and sets off to face death to save the lost sheep. The coin does not lose itself and is instead lost because of someone else, but what difference does this make to the coin? It can be used in any way, polished, cherished or destroyed—it doesn’t make any difference. It represents those who have given up on themselves and even refuse to suffer for themselves. Still, somewhere there is an immense difference regarding their life’s destiny. A heart that cares for this destiny exists somewhere, where the one who does not cherish himself is truly cherished and wanted.
I matter: something that cannot change
As far as the feeling of being lost goes, some feel this state to its fullest (the lost son), others only suffer from the sad consequences (the lost sheep), while others are completely indifferent and cold, dead towards their state (the coin). The latter have discovered that people’s opinions can change, that their appreciation can turn into contempt, that reputation can descend from the mountain top to the darkest valley. Fortune and rank may come and go. Man may become the victim of his wrong thoughts. But, no matter how wrong our or others’ calculations are when it comes to us, or how strange our self-perception might be, these can never make God look at us other than the way only He can look at us. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10).
What must change?
It’s not easy to accept Jesus’ message about God: a Father who “wastes” grace and a shepherd who leaves His flock and goes looking for the lost sheep. It is an image contrary to everything that society and even the church have been teaching for millennia.
This is what a woman who had been excluded from her congregation for 12 years would realize. She ended up poor, and suffered greatly, physically, psychologically and socially, on account of her bleeding. How different was the Father who Jesus presented and represented from the one the woman had gotten to know from the people or from the pharisees at the synagogue. This is why she goes herself and touches the hem of His garment, to her salvation. And the miracle that takes places confirms that everything Jesus said about the Father is true.
Jesus was touched and He himself touched those He knew had the potential to expose Him to social ostracism. He knew well what it meant, for society and for the church of His time, to be touched by a woman who was bleeding, or to touch a dead person or a leper. The most important thing He came to communicate on earth was not His own reputation, in light of the value system of the time, but this message that had never been heard before: “The Father Himself loves you!”
He not only cured diseases, but “he took up our pain and bore our suffering”. This is the reality of God, no matter what we may think of Him! It’s not about what we believe about God, but about what Jesus showed us. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even today He touches women who are bleeding, lepers, and dead people. Even today He eats together with tax collectors and sinners, with all those whom the Church is, sadly, afraid to treat and welcome as Jesus, the Founder of the Church, did. Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, had excluded this woman 12 years prior and told people not to touch her or let themselves be touched by her, and Jesus…is touched by her, is made “unclean” because she touched His garment and, still, He calls this renegade, this isolated, excluded, “unclean” and “cursed” woman, “daughter” because it was not only His garment that had been touched but also His heart!
He is no more afraid now than He was then to expose Himself by touching that woman. It is therefore unjust to doubt His willingness and joy to receive you. I will never mistake Jesus for the synagogue or the world I live and move in. Therefore, if you have Naaman’s leprous pride or the sexual sin of the “woman caught in adultery”, if you have Bartimaeus’ blindness or if sin has carved leprous wounds into your soul, if your clothes are stained with the blood of persecution, violence or betrayal—regardless of your state, “Come!” for “whoever comes to me I will never drive away!”
Who found whom?
All those represented in the “lost and found” parables have something in common: while they are being found, they discover that they are the ones who find The One who was searching for them, and that to be found means to find. All those in the “lost and found”, “dead and alive” categories have come to find what they had lost or never had—the truth about God’s love.
Whoever loses the truth about the One who is searching for them is lost. A person is not found until they find the truth they have lost. The lost and even the “dead” are not hopeless, because God sent Someone to search for them and find them. Your salvation is already on the way!
Nicu Butoi became a Christian as a young man in Communist Romania, where his passion for sharing the message of Jesus with others resulted in arrest, imprisonment and mistreatment. After the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in 1989, Butoi began preaching publicly around Romania and, later, internationally. He now pastors the Dublin Seventh-day Adventist Church in Georgia, USA.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ST.network website. It is reprinted here with permission.