Father Life

By Jim Tune

I once heard a preacher tell of a tormented young woman who attended his church. He described her as being broken in ways so shattering he doubted she’d ever get all of those broken parts fixed.

06_Tune_JNHer father had abandoned the family when she was a young girl. Her longing for a father grew so intense that when other dads in the neighborhood mowed their lawns, she grabbed her rag doll and walked next to them, back and forth, while they cut the grass. She remembered being hopeful every time she heard a lawn mower start because it meant she could feel like a daughter for a little while.

That story stayed with me over the years. The image of a little girl wandering around the neighborhood looking for dads to walk next to still gets to me.

Anthropologists tell us “father hunger” is one of the deepest longings in the world today. We suffer from being fatherless. At its deepest, this suffering is something far beyond the absence of our biological fathers.

French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion wrote a book entitled God Without Being that offered a challenging interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. Marion points out that the Greek text implies the son went to his father and asked for something more than property and money. He asked his father for his share of the property (ousia). In Greek, the word means “substance.”

As a son and an heir, he already had use of his share of what was rightfully his. But the son wanted more; he wanted his inheritance as cut off from his father. He wanted it as his own and in such a way he no longer needed to acknowledge the father for his life and freedom and how he used them.

The consequence of that, as shown in the parable, was a gift no longer sensed or acknowledged as a gift. When this happens, the result is always misuse of the gift, loss of integrity, and personal humiliation.

The prodigal son’s real issue was not so much his hunger for pleasure as his hunger for the wrong kind of independence. He wanted the freedom to enjoy life completely on his own terms. In moving outside the father’s house, he lost more than a father. He lost real life and freedom because these can be experienced only while still accepting a certain level of dependence.

That’s why Jesus repeated, again and again, he could do nothing on his own. Everything he was and everything he did came from his Father.

Our lives are not our own. Fortunately there is life in the Father’s house.

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