Just a few years ago I stopped writing on my tax return that I could be claimed as a ‘dependent’. Our world struggles with the notion of dependency and weakness. I was moved to think of how differently Scripture sees this when I was reading the other day.
Timothy Keller, pastor and apologist at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City writes in his book, The Prodigal God, concerning the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32):
The elder brothers of the world desperately need to see themselves in this mirror. Jesus aimed this parable primarily at the Pharisees, to show them who they were and to urge them to change. As we said, the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That’s why elder-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don’t go to God and beg for healing for their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick, you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you’re sick you won’t, you’ll just die. – Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, Dutton Press, New York, pp67.
So often the Christian faith is perceived as only a faith for those who are desperate and know it. Richard Dawkins (and many others of like persuasion) portrays the Christian faith (and religion in general) as a “crutch for consolation”. For ages we have preached the Parable of the Prodigal Son as a demonstration about how God will accept anyone, anywhere, so long as they turn back to their Father in Heaven and call on his mercy.
Yet, Keller challenges this assumption in his book The Prodigal God. Like many aspects of Scripture, the teachings have a great deal more to do with who God is than they do with a personal application. We may extract appropriate applications from the teachings of Scripture, but only once we have wrestled first with what the text says about God, and then what the text meant to those for whom it was originally intended, and then what it means for us today.
Those of us long established in the Church have just as much need for the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit as those first stepping inside the doors. Sometimes we can be overcome with a sense of having “arrived” in the faith – no longer dependent upon moment-by-moment interactions with the grace of God. We can no more disconnect ourselves from dependency on God than we can disconnect ourselves from dependency on air.
As Americans, we struggle against the notion of dependency, vulnerability or anything that smacks of a lack of personal choice or control. The story of the Prodigal God offers us a window into our mutual dependency, whether we’re escaping from an external and clearly fractured life or whether we’re striving to obscure our internal and less obvious weaknesses in the midst of a walk with Jesus.
The message of the cross and our utterly hopeless condition apart from the grace of God is a message of hope, healing and holiness that the world we are walking in desperately needs. You see, weakness is despised by the New Atheism (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, others) and indeed by the vast majority of the world. God’s perspective on weakness and dependence, however, should prompt us to thoughts and prayers:
1 Cor. 1:27 – “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak in the world to shame the strong.”
2 Cor. 12:10 – “For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Consider then, what dependence and weakness means for the Christian. Is it not an honor to be listed as a dependent on God’s tax return?