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Friday, May 23, 2014

Can Attitudes Be Heretical?

There are a number of places in the Bible which declare that the kind of relationship we have with God is often revealed more by how we regard others than how we address God. The Old Testament prophets stated this over and over as they rebuked Israel for its pretentious acts of worship while they freely practiced injustice against fellow chosen people. Jesus's parable of the two men praying showed how the object of one's faith can be revealed by how one compares oneself with another. And Paul tells us not to judge lest we condemn ourselves. We have another such example in the parable of the Prodigal Son (click here for the scriptures) and Brad Johnson wrote an article about it which appeared in The Christian Post.

What does Johnson say about this parable. Though he notes that father and the prodigal son get back together as the son repents, he insists that the parable is primarily about the older brother. I don't agree with him here but our differences do not interfere with the points he tries to make.  So Johnson focuses on the kind of person the older brother is and how the father shows his love for the older brother as well. 

Johnson wrote that he was happy that the prodigal son saw the father first. That is because, he reasoned, if the prodigal son had seen the older brother instead, he would have been rejected and sent away. According to Johnson this has to do with presumption of having merit and how he did not understand his father's graciousness. Johnson attributes this to the older brother's rationality. Because he had stayed with his father and did not waste what his father had given him, the older brother assumed that he was getting what he deserved, that is until he saw a banquet being thrown for his brother. This upset him because his father never celebrated the older brother's faithfulness while he throws a big party and feast for the son whose only redeeming quality was that he returned. 

According to Johnson, the older brother's unhappiness over the grace being shown his brother in the form of the celebration revealed that the he did not realize that his position with his father also relied on grace. And this is where we get to what was first written. That more can be revealed about how we regard God by how we regard others than how we talk to or about God. Do we want those whose sins offend us the most to repent and enjoy the welcome home celebration or do we prefer that they stay as they are so that we can look down on them both in the here and now and forever? One attitude reveals an encounter with God's grace while the other shows a reliance on one's own merit. And we know how relying on one's own merit is regarded by God's Word, it isn't. In fact, it can be seen something that shows our faith to be false.

The message of this parable does not have to be restricted to us Christians only. It can easily apply to those of us who are activists.  As we protest against certain practices and the people who perform them, are we protesting as the older brother or do we wish for our opponents to change? The older brother wanted to see his brother get what was coming to him. Such would be a natural reaction but it doesn't help activists when working for certain causes. And here, all we need to do is to review how Martin Luther King Jr. approached activism. He did it not want his opponents to be punished; rather, he wanted to win them over. And while those who could not be won over exercised power, he appealed to democratic controls so that progress could continue and their power abated. This is what those who do not want to hear about God's grace, as shown to the prodigal son, can take away from this parable. 

In either case, having the attitude of the older brother doesn't help. In fact, it might show that those of us who are like the older brother are prodigals too. 



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