The Older Brother’s View

Posted on August 11, 2014 | 12 comments

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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  1. Loved your take on this, Scott. I have never really thought about it as a lack of understanding and experiencing God’s grace and mercy, but what a truth! Thanks for this today. Heart Hugs, Shelly

    • Thank you for your kindness, and for being a continued part of this site.

  2. Yes…those preconceptions…and predisposed tendencies toward legalism…

    God has brought me a long way in being delivered from those misconceptions of who He is. I suspect I have much further, yet, to go. I so look forward to continuiung learning our Father’s heart of love and grace!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Very interesting and thought provoking as always. It has made me think about how I see the father.

  4. I’ve wondered, too, if the older son ever asked for a goat. But until now, I never applied that thought to my own life. I don’t view God as the older brother did, I know He will give me anything I ask for. My problem, is that I don’t ask. He wants me to ask. Most {all?} of our misconceptions about God could be cured by simply reading His word. Too many rely on others to tell them about God rather than experience Him for themselves. Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

  5. You ALWAYS make me think, Scott. Seriously. It seems like our world doesn’t view God as a divine being but rather possessing just one characteristic– full of wrath or “buddy Jesus” or a genie in a bottle. Thanks for making me think about my own perspective and so glad to have you back at #EverydayJesus. Blessings to you!

    • Thank you so much for you kind words. I’m glad this blog gets you thinking, for that is what I hope for. Thanks to you for hosting the wonderful link party.

  6. There is so much to the parable. Seems like every time I read it, God shows me something new. When you said the older brother probably saw the father as withholding something good that really resonated. There is so much tangled thinking that God has to straighten out. Visiting you from The Weekend Brew.

    • I think withholding is a very common misconception about God. With me in particular. Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.

  7. Well. You said it. You revealed the truth. We don’t know God. As a big brother we see ourselves slaving to the slave master. As the prodigal we see ourselves saved by the “Father.” When we come to Him stripped of self we will find Him – we will know Him as He is. Ask the Psalmist and he will tell you. Look for the ancient paths and they will reveal the truth. God is found in the yielded heart. Lean into Him. He doesn’t push back.

  8. I did not grow up in a Christian home, and had so many wrong views of God. I still struggle at times with certain misconceptions about His character. I continue to pray and ask God to reveal His truth to my heart. Thanks for sharing at The Weekend Brew!

  9. Hi Scott – This is an interesting take on the prodigal son. It gives me something to think about. Thanks so much for sharing with the Let’s Get Real Party.

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