Among the many things I am woefully inept at, drawing ranks near the top of the list. I am one of those students to whom well-meaning teachers would often say, “Timmy, tell me about your picture.” That is a much nicer way of asking the question they were really asking, which is, “What in the world is that?”
Bearing my ineptitude in mind, I would like to paint a picture, of God.
I’m reminded of the youngster who had similar artistic limitations whose teacher asked him what he was drawing. When he replied that he was drawing a picture of God the teacher said, “I thought nobody knew what God looks like.” Undaunted, the little fellow said, “They will when I’m done.” I don’t quite possess his brashness but I share his goal.
To be honest, this is not my picture. I cannot claim it as an original. Rather, I am tracing a picture painted by Jesus in a story he told. Actually, it was a trilogy, and it is found in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15.
His first brush strokes depicting the Heavenly Father are of a shepherd out on a search and rescue mission for a lost sheep. The shepherd had 100 sheep but when they gathered for the evening, one was missing.
I am told that in that culture when the shepherds would come near the town for the night, the community would never notice if a sheep was missing. What they would notice was that a shepherd was missing and they would immediately know, “He’s out searching and won’t be back until the lost sheep is found.” We live in a community where one of our most valuable assets is COSAR. The number of search and rescue missions they accomplish each year is astounding. They are part of this picture of God.
The second picture in the trilogy is of a woman with a broom and a lantern. She had, against huge odds, managed to save ten coins but somehow one had gone missing. Carefully she lit the lamp and in that dusty, dirt floor culture swept every inch of the house, looking for the coin. The clear implication of Jesus’ story is that the Father’s heart is just like that toward His lost ones.
The third picture is likely the best known story in the world. We erroneously call it the story of The Prodigal Son. The reason I say erroneously, is because while there is a lost son involved, the story is much more about the Father than about the son.
When, after heading into the far country to spend his inheritance on wine, women and song, the son finally winds up starving and bankrupt, he remembers his father. He never thought it possible that he could be taken back into the family but thought perhaps his dad might be kind enough to hire him as a servant. Walking back home to make that humble request you can imagine his shock when he sees his dad running down the road toward him.
In that culture dignified men never ran. But here came his father, running, arms open, tears streaming, welcoming him back home, not as a servant, but as a son. Again, the clear implication of the story is that the Father’s heart is just like that.
If I could paint, that would be my picture of God. A shepherd seeking lost sheep; a woman diligently searching for lost coins; and a loving father in the act of extending a warm embrace. Unfortunately we have accepted variant pictures of God that are completely contrary to this. Many current pictures of God see Him as either an angry judge who’s out to get us or of a helpless old man who’s out of touch with reality as we experience it.
I’m not much of a painter myself, but I am deeply grateful that the picture I get to trace portrays Him the way it does. By the way, if you’re interested, Google Rembrandt’s painting called, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” He does it a little better than me.
Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna. This column appears weekly.