articlesqa March 15, 2016 the father's pursuit
Ifeoluwapo Eleyinafe Article by Ifeoluwapo EleyinafeCreator and author of
You can nev­er go home but home comes for you.

Re­al­i­ty Check

So far we’ve talked about how the prodi­gal son could not re­turn un­til he turned around. But like we also said, want­i­ng to go home and ac­tu­al­ly mak­ing it all the way home are two dif­fer­ent things. Think about it again. He had no mon­ey. He had no friends. He even felt like he had lost his iden­ti­ty as a son and was in­stead try­ing to go back home as a ser­vant in­stead. So tell me again, how does some­one who has burned every bridge cross the rag­ing riv­er and make it back home? Some­times we take for grant­ed that this is al­ways pos­si­ble. It most cer­tain­ly is not. There is some­one in the Bible who looks ter­ri­bly sim­i­lar to the son in the para­ble. His name is Esau. Lis­ten to the way he is de­scribed in He­brews 12:16-17. Does he not sound just like the prodi­gal son? And yet the Bible says that he could not make it back home. It was not be­cause he didn’t try. He searched and searched with many tears but he could not find a way back home.

Life is not a fairy tale. The sto­ry Je­sus is telling here runs counter to every­thing we see in the life around us. It runs counter even to a bib­li­cal ar­che­typ­al ex­am­ple. On their own, peo­ple who leave home not only do not come back and they can­not come back. Even when they try to come back, they are al­ways re­ceived as ser­vants and not as the sons, daugh­ters, hus­bands, wives, broth­ers or sis­ters that they were when they left. So when Je­sus tells the sto­ry of the prodi­gal son who ac­tu­al­ly made it back home as a son, you have to ask your­self: how, how did this son of all peo­ple ac­tu­al­ly make it back? Je­sus is not a telling a fairy tale here about how things just mag­i­cal­ly get bet­ter. There are al­ways con­se­quences for our ac­tions. Good con­se­quences over which we re­joice. Or bad con­se­quences that make us weep ter­ri­bly over and over, over what might have been, if only...


So it is not a sure or for­gone con­clu­sion that there is a way back. It is bet­ter nev­er to have left at all. The way of re­pen­tance is not guar­an­teed. It is bet­ter not to sin. Yet look­ing at Luke 15:20, it seems so easy. The prodi­gal son gets up to go home and as soon as the sen­tence ends, even be­fore the move­ment ends, he is al­ready em­braced by the fa­ther. When does he ac­tu­al­ly meet the fa­ther on the road? Again here Je­sus is pur­pose­ful­ly vague. He says, “While he was still at a dis­tance...” What a vague state­ment. Had the son made it to the door? Was he 5 miles away, 20 miles away, 1000 miles away? And if you have ever had a friend be an­gry at you or of­fend you then you know there are many kinds of dis­tance. You can be in the same room, sit­ting next to each oth­er on the same couch and be galax­ies apart. Phys­i­cal close­ness doesn’t al­ways oblit­er­ate emo­tion­al dis­tance. What about spir­i­tu­al dis­tance? What about a mar­riage in which there is phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al in­ti­ma­cy but on Sun­day, the wife goes to church but the hus­band stays home.

If you read fur­ther, in Luke 15:21-22, you will see that he had even mis­un­der­stood the love of his fa­ther. Even in the arms of the Fa­ther, the son was still de­sir­ing to be a ser­vant. He still did not think he could be a son. What a slight! What an af­front to the Fa­ther’s love! To think that this Fa­ther would be con­tent to re­ceive back a ser­vant in­stead of get­ting back a son. But have you not ex­pe­ri­enced this be­fore? You’ve for­giv­en and em­braced some­one you love but they still see them­selves as less than who they used to be. Maybe you still see them as less than they used to be. It feels like they left but only a shell of them came back. You see, even in his most gen­uine re­pen­tance, even in the arms of his fa­ther, the prodi­gal son was still far far away. No won­der the Bible says of Esau that he could not find re­pen­tance. Even our deep­est right­eous­ness (and obe­di­ence is the only right­eous ac­tion greater than re­pen­tance), we still mess up ter­ri­bly.

Now maybe you see that the son was far, far and too far away to ever find his way back home. Phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, spir­i­tu­al­ly, even at the door, even in the house, even in the Fa­ther’s em­brace, he was still far far far away. So I ask again, and I am weep­ing when I ask this, “How, how, how did he man­age to make it back home?”

No Way Back

Let us clar­i­fy the prob­lem even more. When I speak of home, I don’t mean a house. I mean a home. I mean an iden­ti­ty. A place where you be­long and not be­cause of any­thing that you do. A place where your iden­ti­ty and your name have an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship. When you are at work or at school, every­one calls you by name but they’re not real­ly call­ing you. They’re call­ing a shad­ow of you, an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of you. Out­side your home, your name is of­ten just grease for the wheels. Your name is just a way of mov­ing the world along. But at home, when they call your name, they are call­ing you. Few things are bet­ter in this world than be­ing known. This is why lit­tle chil­dren cry and wail and can’t be con­soled when their tyran­ni­cal par­ents force them to go to school. This is why you can’t wait to go back home even af­ter only be­ing away at work for 8 hours. Now if you feel a dull ache just by be­ing phys­i­cal­ly dis­tant from home, how great then must be the trau­ma when you leave and dis­avow your iden­ti­ty and every­thing you are? This is what the son left be­hind. He fled with an in­her­i­tance but he left his name.

And this son is not a dream­er. He knows he can­not have his name again. He knows he can nev­er go back home. He knows this so well that he doesn’t aim for the home. He aims only for the house. As a ser­vant, he would at least be in the house. In this the son echos David Psalms 84:10. So how did the son make it back home? How could the prodi­gal son ever have crossed so great a dis­tance in a sin­gle sen­tence? “And he arose and came to his fa­ther.” Well, af­ter ex­plor­ing my ques­tion and some of its nu­ances and cor­ners, let us fi­nal­ly an­swer it.

The an­swer is sim­ple. He did not. The son nev­er made it home on his own. He could nev­er have made it home, on his own. On your own, you can nev­er go back home. You don’t have the pow­er to. Hus­bands, as much as they try, can­not re­turn to the wives they have of­fend­ed. Sons, of their own pow­er, can­not rec­on­cile with their fa­thers. This is the oth­er side of re­pen­tance we fear to look at. You may be able to turn around but you do not have the pow­er or the vi­sion to find the way back home. But be­fore we cry in de­spair, Je­sus re­veals in Luke 15:20 that there is one way back home and thank­ful­ly, it does not de­pend on your pow­er, de­sire or abil­i­ty.

Bring­ing The Home

The pre­ced­ing para­graphs were not meant to dis­cour­age. They were meant to show the enor­mi­ty of task of restora­tion. Now let us look at the sec­ond half of Luke 15:20. “But while he was still a long way off..” I think we’ve es­tab­lished that no mat­ter how close he got to the house, he would al­ways be “a long way off” from home. Now look what hap­pens next: ”, the fa­ther saw him, felt com­pas­sion for him and ran and em­braced him and kissed him.” The fa­ther then ig­nores his re­quest to be­come a ser­vant and ful­ly re­stores him as a son, Luke 15:22-24.

This then is the only way to bring a lost friend, son, daugh­ter, wife, hus­band, broth­er and sis­ter back home. They will nev­er make it back on their own. But as soon as you see that God has helped them turn around, RUN to them. Do as the fa­ther did. Em­brace them phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly. Give them back their name. Give them back their robe (iden­ti­ty). Give them back their place in the home. Make a new covenant with them by giv­ing them back their ring. Re­new your vows. Do not treat them as some­one who is dead or as some­one who is with you but dead to you. Treat them like Je­sus told Mary and Martha to treat Lazarus af­ter He brought him back from the dead John 11:44. Re­move their grave clothes and give them new ones. Re­move from them the clothes of a prodi­gal and put on them the robes of a daugh­ter, a broth­er, a fa­ther, a wife, a hus­band, a friend, a pas­tor, a sis­ter... No one who has left home can ever make it home again but those who love them can bring home to them.

This is the real tragedy of sin. When the one you love has left, you can­not force them to come back. You can­not call them back. And when they are ready to come back, they can­not find their way back. The chasm, the gap be­tween the two of you is real. But praise the Lord for love. For by love, you, who was left be­hind, you, who was hurt, have the strength to cross a chasm! You have the pow­er to bring home to the one who ran away and was lost. Oth­er­wise, they can nev­er come home again.


Do­ing this is not easy. They may have hurt you great­ly by say­ing and do­ing un­speak­able things. And then there is al­ways the ques­tion run­ning through your mind, “What if they just do it again?” How can you tell when re­pen­tance is real or fake? Shouldn’t you wait till you are sure be­fore giv­ing back to them what they threw away? Isn’t it wis­er to guard your heart so that you don’t get hurt again? So many ques­tions and yet now you have just dis­cov­ered that God will use you as the an­swer to the tears you prayed many times and long into the night. I don’t know the an­swer to those ques­tions. All I know is that the Fa­ther, even af­ter be­ing hurt by His son, chose to be an an­swer by lov­ing him any­way. Sure­ly there were ques­tions but He did not let the ques­tions par­a­lyze Him. In­stead, He chose to be moved by com­pas­sion (20). And com­pas­sion will give you great­est speed. Is it eas­i­er to see what God has done for us Ro­mans 5:6-8? While they are far, God pur­sues the ones who wrecked His Heart.

There is an an­swer then to all the ques­tions. The an­swer is love. Now be­fore you start ig­nor­ing me, re­mem­ber the physics of love. Love is when you use the dis­tance be­tween your­self and an­oth­er per­son to get clos­er to that per­son. So when you see this loved one who seems to be try­ing to come back home. Ob­serve them. Mea­sure how far they are. Then use that dis­tance to run to them. This is what the Fa­ther did in verse 20 and 22. By ask­ing to be a ser­vant in Luke 15:21, the son showed the Fa­ther how far away he was. So the Fa­ther, again, runs to his son in Luke 15:22 by mak­ing him a son. If there is in­sin­cer­i­ty in their re­pen­tance, then this is an­oth­er dis­tance. Run to them there also and bring home to them ei­ther with a word of ad­mo­ni­tion or a gen­tle re­minder.

To mea­sure the dis­tance though, you have to know two things. First, you have to know where you are. Sec­ond, you have to know where they are. Sim­ple right? Un­til you re­mem­ber that he shat­tered you and like a dropped vase, you can’t see where all your pieces have gone. Where is home when they’ve left and gone? How can you, the hurt one, re­mem­ber your name when it has been so long since you heard them say it? The truth is, they didn’t only take their in­her­i­tance when they left. They took your name as well. And so af­ter all this talk about bring­ing home to them, we come to an­oth­er harsh re­al­i­ty: even you don’t know where this home is. You don’t even know who you are. How can you know where you are when you don’t even know who you are? Love is im­pos­si­ble wher­ev­er you do not know your­self Mark 12:30-31.

But what if in all the many years, weeks, sec­onds that they were gone, there was Some­one else who knew your name and kept telling you who you are and who they are? What if af­ter they left, Some­one re­mained at home and be­cause He re­mained, you could al­ways find your home? What if there was One who kept your heart soft and your limbs lim­ber and strong so that you could run to them while they are still far off? What if there was One who could lift your head Psalms 3:3 and help you hear them cry­ing in re­pen­tance Je­re­mi­ah 3:21? Pray and pray and pray to God. As you pray, He will do all these things for you. He will pre­serve your home. He will pre­serve your name. He will help you know where you are and He will show you where they are. So that when the day comes, you will be able to mea­sure the dis­tance and RUN!

When I was younger, I re­mem­ber one time specif­i­cal­ly that I got in trou­ble while I was be­ing babysat. I was a prod­uct of 1990’s car­toons and want­ed to see if slip­ping on a ba­nana peel ac­tu­al­ly worked. I put one by my sis­ter when she was prac­tic­ing her bal­let and she stepped on it and fell. I quick­ly ran to my room and hid un­der my cov­ers. I promise I was not laugh­ing. My babysit­ter at the time came into my room and start­ed say­ing loud­ly, “Where is Kearsten?”. I thought I was so clever to avoid her wrath and pun­ish­ment by hid­ing. Look­ing back on it now, she was call­ing me out and but she knew where I was the...
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“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” - Colossians 2:3