Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Parable of the Kingdom?

I found this over at the Emergent Village blog. I hope they don't mind me sharing this:

What is the Kingdom of God like, you ask?

A woman lived in rural central California. She was known for her kindness, generosity and love, but she was also fair and just. Her five children were normal kids, but the four youngest were known around town for their rebellious streaks. As a single mom, she did the best she could to establish both love and rules in the house, but four of her kids desired freedom over relationship. So one evening, the four youngest filled their backpacks and ran away.

The mom woke up and, finding four of her children’s beds empty, began to weep. She would not rest until her children returned home or she found them. Being a farm owner, she had plenty of hired hands to help in her search. She put the farm’s business on hold and sent her workers out to search for her lost darlings. She spent every last dime printing pamphlets, recording radio spots and inundating the TV with ads exclaiming her love for her children and her pleas for them to return home into her loving arms. All that she had, was and would be theirs.

Then one day, it happened. One of her runaways returned home. Seeing and hearing her message, his heart melted and he came back. She embraced him, welcoming him home. She turned to her eldest son (the one that never ran away) and asked if he would help find and bring back the others. He set out with a mission and a message. When he found two of the three, he told them of their mom’s love for them and how badly she missed them and her relentless desire for all of them to come home. He also reminded them of the Great Rule, but they refused to come back with him. He never did find the forth lost one.

Years passed and no sign of her kids. Regardless, a great rule had been violated. So she climbed into her pickup truck with a few hired hands and set out to bring her children home. On May 17, she found them.

All three were huddled up near a dumpster, clutching a worn blanket. They saw her truck approach and, too tired to run, they just sat with terror I their eyes. See, while away, they had been told countless lies by countless people that their mom was not a kind woman, that she did not love them and that she was mad-as-hell at them. Added to this were their incredible loneliness, shame and feelings of worthlessness. Living on the street—isolated from love—can do this to anyone, and it certainly did them. Seeing her children and hearing about their condition, the mother reassured them of her love. But despite her undying, never-ending motherly love for her children, she knew that the Great Rule had been violated and she must act accordingly.

They pulled up into the driveway and the truck came to a dusty halt. The hired hands helped the kids climb out of the back of the truck. As the mom walked to the house she looked back one last time at her kids. Motioning to the hired hands, she firmly declared, “Take them away. They violated the Great Rule and did not return to me on their own.”

“But mom….!?”

“Not another word,” she interrupted. “Whether you knew it or not, The Great Rule says that my children shall not run away and that if they do, they are to return on their own within three years. If they do not, I will find them and the Great Punishment must be inflicted. I even sent my oldest son for you, but you did not believe him.”

“Mom, we are sorry. We were scared, hurting and full of shame. We did things we are not proud of and that you would not approve of. Deep inside, when the nights were the quietest, we knew you loved us but we were afraid that you would have nothing to do with us after all we had done.”

With tears in her eyes she slowly replied, “I understand, I see you are truly sorry and I love you. But there is nothing I can do; I am powerless against the Great Rule. Three years have passed, you did not return and the Rule is the Rule.” With that, she turned and walked towards the house where her returning-son stood on the porch, watching.

The hired hands, still clutching the children by the arms, took them away to the barn…even the fourth child who never heard the eldest son’s message. As directed by the Great Punishment, they entered the barn, tied the children to the posts and began beating them. Next came the kerosene. Then, in the midst of their screams and under the watchful eye of their loving mom, they and the barn were set ablaze.

The loving, kind, full-of-mercy, just and righteous mom, turning from the window overlooking the burning barn, looked at her oldest son and the child who returned to her, wiped the tear from her eye and smiled. She motioned once more to her hired hands and—with the other children still burning and screaming outside—the feast of feasts, the party of parties, began. The mom, her eldest son, her returning-on-his-own child, and even her hired hands lived, feasted, and partied…happily…ever…after.

The End.

Now go, and share this GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom. Praise be to God.

For those that missed the irony, this retelling of the modern evangelical Christian meta-narrative shows how unbelievably screwed up our theology is when we're very comfortable with the everyone burning in Hell,  and offended by everyone going to Heaven. Check out all the noise people have made over Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins, if you want to know what I'm talking about.

This little parable doesn't prove universalism is true or that Hell doesn't exist, of course, but it does raise a question about what we really believe. Do we really believe that God's love conquers all, or do we believe that Jesus somehow exploits a loophole in the system set up by an angry, wrathful deity? And if the latter is the case, do we really believe that God is triune and completely of one essence in three persons?

On a personal note, as a father, myself, this story makes me sick. If this truly were the essence of the Christian faith, then I'd walk away and never set foot in a church again. Sadly, we've done a very good job convincing the world that this really is Christianity, and they've acted accordingly. I, for one, don't blame them.

Let's make sure we're not only telling a better story, but a true story about who God really is.

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