Two Sons: My Journey with God & The Bible

Two Sons: My Journey with God & The Bible April 21, 2015

by Jared Byas
On Twitter @jbyas

Jared Byas

THE ONE

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved his father and longed to be just like him. His father seemed all-powerful, all wise, all good. And the father always helped his son, told him what to do and which decisions were for the best.

The boy, he grew, and his childhood was glorious and serene. Whenever he faced a difficult decision, he’d run to his father who would hug him tightly and tell him just which road to take. The boy found such comfort, knowing that he could trust his father with every decision he faced.

At night, the boy would sit with his father by the fire and recount the difficult questions that had confronted him through the day.  He’d tell his father his thoughts and hopes, but would always end the same way: “That’s what I want father, but just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” He was glad to trust his father with the answers for his life, to place them in the hands of one who knew far better.

When the boy became a man, his father grew ill. And for the first time, fear assaulted him; it struck him to the core. “I am lost without my father! How can I make a single decision without his clear direction?” And in that moment came the most devastating revelation of all: he was nothing like his father. He was neither wise, nor good, nor powerful.

The father recovered but the son never did.

THE OTHER

Once upon a time there was another boy who loved his father and longed to be just like him. His father seemed all-powerful, all wise, all good. And the father never seemed to help his son, rarely told him what to do and which decisions were for the best.

The boy grew frustrated. When he would ask (and I admit, sometimes he demanded) the best path to take, the best road to choose, the father would simply smile and say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Day after day, the boy would come to him with a decision, a crossroads in his life, and the father would simply say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The boy felt unacknowledged. Hurt.

He would go to his mother in exasperation, yet she would simply open the book and read ancient tales about the father. Sullen and confused, he would say, “I don’t want to know what my father did; I want to know what I should do right now!”

But in bed at night, when the house was still, the boy would find himself reading the book again and again. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find clear answers to the problems he faced. He would slam it shut in disgust and say, “I’ll just have to make my own decision.” And so he did.

When the boy became a man, his father grew ill. He stood at his father’s bedside. “Before you go, I need to know one thing. Why did you never tell me what to do? Why did you never answer me clearly? Why did you give me nothing when I needed your direction most?”

His father replied, “Nothing? I gave you everything you needed. Giving you answers is taking; it is to rob you of the gift of the struggle. To be like me requires struggle. The struggle matures.”

The son considered this, and asked his father, “But why did you take the risk? I could have made all the wrong decisions!”

His father answered sternly, “Did you not listen to what I did tell you? Did you not read the book? You know who I am. I will always be with you, even to the end of the age.”

And then the son understood. His resentment melted away and was replaced by inestimable gratitude.

The father recovered and remained with the son, even to the end of the age.


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  • James

    Yes, it often seems we are in no-man’s-land. We have faith building memory, contained in the book, of what God does and therefore who he is. And we have hope, again through the book, of a glorious future on its way. But here we are left for now to struggle and mature and “practice the presence.”

  • I really enjoyed this parable. As organically messy as my/our relationship with the Bible and the church is, the actuality is probably some degree of blend, although obviously the second model seems much closer to the actuality, whereas the first model is more what people try to create for themselves.

    I was trying to think of a funny way to be meta and take your parable literally and/or create some doctrinal dispute out of its metaphysics, but I couldn’t think of anything. I just wanted you to know I tried.

    • Jared Byas

      Thanks Phil, it’s the thought that counts.

    • newenglandsun

      Different Christian denominations have a lot of different beliefs separating them but I honestly don’t get why the denominations have to create doctrinal disputes out of parables. That should be something that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholics can even agree to shake hands on (speaking of completely polar opposites with anathemas all across the board against each other…).

  • Thomas

    I’m a wrestling Christian teaching a Sunday school series for teens on parables. I wanted to do this next week on 2 Samuel 12, and I needed more to go on. Your post today is providence.

  • Ross

    Thanks for that:-)

  • Derek

    Wonderful.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Of course, it is quite ironic that the words which immediately precede the quoted text are: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

    • Jared Byas

      Maybe you could expound more on what you find ironic?

      While I wait to hear more, I might add it’s possible you are taking this a bit too literally. I used that phrase because it had a stronger rhetorical effect, not because I was trying at all to keep it in some sort of context.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Jared. I appreciate the attempt to use the phrase for a strong rhetorical effect. And I think your point works if we’re talking about the Bible being some kind of crystal ball that is going to give us help with every decision in life: which particular person to marry, which college to attend, which job to apply for, or which sock to put on first in the morning. But the context of that phrase is important; and the promise to be with us always is precisely for the purpose of carrying out the command of evangelism, discipleship, and teaching others to obey Jesus’ commands. If we are going to picture the relationship between Jesus and his disciples as that of father and sons, then it seems that the gospels, which present Jesus as a wisdom figure, would see him giving fairly detailed instructions to his sons in the art of living, like the father/wisdom teacher in the book of Proverbs. And, indeed, this is exactly what we see in the gospels, e.g., Jesus, in Matthew at the end of the sermon on the mount, telling his disciples that they will be counted as either wise or foolish, precisely because they either obey or disobey Jesus’ words. So I would argue that, for the most part, Jesus hasn’t left us to simply figure it out. To some extent he has, and I think NT Wright and Kevin Vanhoozer capitalize on that with their drama metaphor. But to a large extent, he has not; and that’s why I find your use of that phrase ironic. It really seems to go against the grain of the biblical narrative and teaching.

        • Jared Byas

          So you would say that Proverbs provides “fairly detailed instructions on the art of living?” I think I have a different conception of wisdom literature and how it functions in the Hebrew Bible so maybe you can just provide some authors you know that agree with your assumptions so I know where you are coming from but I’m afraid we’ll likely just agree to disagree on that one. Too hefty of a conversation for this thread.

          Secondly, you say “If we are going to picture the relationship between Jesus and his disciples as that of father and sons.” Why would we picture Jesus that way? Is that metaphor prominent in the gospels themselves? If so, I can understand, but you might need to show me where that is in the gospels.

          If it’s because I take a line Jesus’ words and attribute them to a “father” in a completely fabricated parable, then, that seems a stretch. Again, seems strange to take my wording so literally and apply to some systematic understanding of Jesus and what Jesus does or doesn’t do in the gospels. My parable doesn’t align with your understanding of the biblical narratives, which shouldn’t be surprising because (a) it’s a parable (b) that wasn’t my intent, and (c) I doubt we have the same understanding of the biblical narratives.

          Also, you admit that Jesus has indeed left us to simply figure it out “to some extent,” citing Wright & Vanhoozer. So, what I hear you saying is that my parable can’t possibly fit in that sliver of “some extent.” Is that what you’re saying? Why can’t it? Why not graciously give the benefit of the doubt that what I was wrestling with was precisely that “to some extent” that Wright & Vanhoozer have argued for? Maybe I was wrestling with questions about whether or not God guides our everyday, non-moral decisions?

          Lastly, maybe you could provide some hermeneutic to use that navigates what seems to be a thin line in your thinking: the Bible doesn’t provide answers “to every decision in life” but at the same time it doesn’t “leave us to simply figure it out.” How does that work exactly? Maybe there’s just some ambiguity in your use of “it” in those last several lines.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Jared. A few replies.
            The book of Proverbs is, on the one hand, a book of principles and guidelines from which one may extrapolate to one’s own situation. It does, however, at the same time contain some very direct commands and prohibitions, from the father/teacher to his son/pupil. I suppose any commentator on the book would be willing to express things this way: Waltke, Fox, Longman, etc. Indeed, Waltke expressly characterizes wisdom as “skill in the art of living.” And it is hard for me to figure out how one can read through Proverbs and not see all the negative and positive commandments; it is very definitely a father/teacher telling his son/pupil what and what not to do. So I really don’t understand your reticence on this.

            If I misunderstood your use of the words of Jesus, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” words spoken by Jesus, to apply to someone other than Jesus, i.e., the first person of the Trinity, I hope you’re able to understand my “mistake.” I certainly don’t see it as a stretch at all. But since there are so many commands, laws, regulations, statutes, aphorisms, etc., in the Scriptures, whether you want to see the father in your parable as First or Second person of the Trinity really makes very little difference.

            How is your understanding of the biblical narrative and teaching different from mine? So, for example, when Scripture says, “Do not commit adultery,” can you envision a situation where this gives us room to merely “figure it out”?

            I did, in fact, extend the grace you suggested, when I said in my very second sentence that perhaps you were referring to some “crystal ball” approach to the Bible with regard to decision-making. However, your parable is rather totalizing, and does not very readily allow the reader to make this non-moral versus moral distinction.

            As far as my own hermeneutic. If we are talking about non-moral decisions, we simply use, to the best of our ability, the reasoning powers God gave us, without having to be afraid in any that we will make the “wrong” choice. When it come to ethical decisions, I believe a fair reading of the Bible leads toward an eclectic position. Some commands/instructions have been abrogated, for a variety of reasons. Some are heavily contextualized, but we should be able to identify a working principle behind them, and we can “figure out” how to apply them. And then still others are directly applicable and non-negotiable, and there is nothing to figure out. So my problem with your parable is that it does not seem to allow for these distinctions. The boy’s father “never seemed to help” his son, and “rarely told him what to do.” Is this really a fair characterization of what God does in the Bible? Unless one is committed to the very distorted understanding that the Bible is simply a narrative with no propositional content, then one should be prepared to acknowledge the very heavy instructional character of the Scriptures. Simply put, God, in the Bible, spends a great deal of time telling us what and what not to do.

    • newenglandsun

      “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
      One could counter with–Jesus told his disciples to love one another–but how? (Hint: The last part is key.)

      Also, you complain about Jared taking the verse out of context but you left out the part about making disciples and baptizing them.

      Any way, I think Jared’s point (and he can correct me if I’m wrong) is that the Bible is a confusing piece of mass and we shouldn’t read it as if its some sort of instruction manual that always gives us the clear instruction on what to do in given cases. It’s not a political textbook, it’s moral theology isn’t always clear, it’s not a history or a science textbook, etc. Sometimes, it’s better to read the message of the Father’s love over and over again as opposed to the other parts in it because when you read the message of the Father’s love, you know how to show that love to others better.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Newenglandsun. With regard to your last paragraph, I’ll wait for Jared’s clarification on this; but I will say that I deny that the Bible is a “confusing piece of mass.” Further, I think Jesus and other writers in the Bible do give us a good amount of instruction on how to display love in our actions. With regard to my quotation, if you look at it again, I did include making disciples. I only left out the part about baptism in order to make for a shorter citation. However, notice that if I had cited it, that would only have reinforced my point; it’s a specific instruction about baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. Finally, I see no need to “read the message of the Father’s love over and over again as opposed to the other parts.” I don’t see any need to set up a dichotomy there. The “other parts” are still expressions of the Father’s love.

  • Benjamin Spurlock

    That… is honestly one of the most depressing views of God I’ve seen in awhile. What is the point of a father who’s so distant? How can the son believe that the promise of ‘always being with you’ means anything, when him being there NOW is of neither help nor comfort? We’re really supposed to believe that we should be most pleased in God when he’s the least engaged in our lives?

    If anything, this rings more true as an atheistic parable. Only change the conclusion to “That’s great, but I’ve already shown that I don’t need you,” and it wraps up far more neatly and with a better narrative arc.

    I get what you’re saying, I really do. But like a lot of posts along this vein, it’s not gratitude that I’m left with.

  • Todd

    As someone who struggles with scripture and is about to throw the book against the wall, I appreciated this story. Both Fathers have their issues, the first one possibly had his needs validated by his son’s dependency. The second father was a lazy, silent, distant man who built no relationship with his son, and no basis to trust him even if he did give clear advice, and then takes credit for not helping his son. Most evangelical Christians act as if scenario one is what really happens, whilst scenario two is more like reality.

    If God were Buddhist, he would be neither of these things. He would be there, have a relationship with us, but not be a dictator telling us what to do. He would show us things, but not tell us what to see. He would point us towards answers, but not gives us all of the answers, nor be silent. Perhaps it’s time to recreate God in our image again, as every denomination in every generation has done before…