The Older Brother’s View

The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot, 1862

The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot, 1862

As we develop our identity in Christ, the process of sanctification, one of the first and necessary steps in renewing our minds is to consider our preconceptions about who God is.

We need to see him rightly because God wants us to see our-self and define our-self as his people, with him being our God. This relationship is one of trust, Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to experience it, the Israelites were to have God as King to experience it and we are to experience it through Christ.

But one major mistake we make is hanging onto our impressions of God formed through our relationships – often from our experience with our own father or another close authority figure. Or we let our circumstance dictate who we think God is. Or even let the systems of the world drive our conception of God.

So we may see God as angry, driven to make decisions out of anger.

Or withholding.

Or not present.

Or Santa Claus.

Or the senile grandfather.

We have so many false impressions, and ultimately that affects our experience of who God is.

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), this is true of the older brother’s experience.

The older brother thought that relationship with the father was found by obeying the rules. Because of that filter which influenced his false self, the older son’s experience was not one of the father’s grace and mercy.

In fact, discovering the father’s grace and mercy incited anger because it seemed unfair. The older brother verbalized this by saying “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

One wonders, at least I wonder, if because of his preconceptions if the older son ever asked for goat. Rather than seeing everything the father has as his, the older brother saw the father as withholding – keeping something valuable or life-giving from him.

My guess is that because he saw his father this way, the older son never asked. And had never yet experienced the grace and love of the father since he had “never disobeyed” – in his own eyes never having given the father need to be displeased.

That is pride and self-justification on display.

My own experience is similar. Before understanding and developing and identity in Christ, my discipleship had hit a wall because I was still thinking that I had to please God. God loving me depended up me and my actions. Because of those false preconceptions – a product of my self-protective false self – I could not rest in Christ. I could not experiential understanding of grace. Or even truly understand how grace was not earned.

We are not told what become of the older son; whether he developed more understanding of the father through the grace the younger received. Or if he lived in bitterness.

What we do know is that the father revealed himself to the older son, giving him the opportunity to captive his false thoughts and make them obedient to truth.

As we ought to do as well.

What false preconceptions about God are hindering the development of your relationship, trust, and identity development?

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