Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Luke 15
In a move that surprises even me, we’re putting our All the Paul study on hold as I begin Hope Church’s Triad Program. Over the next year or so, I’ll be meeting regularly with two of my friends in order to grow in following Jesus Christ with an eye toward spiritual multiplication. The Bible study portion of the program entails reading the week’s passage every day of the week. The Triad program coordinator, Pastor Bill Craig, described it as “soaking” or “marinating” in the passage, which is a little too touchy-feely a description for my tastes. But as an English major, I am all for a sustained engagement with the text, and I look forward to seeing what insights God can reveal to me through prolonged exposure to particular segments of scripture.
I’d been intending for a while (months upon months!) to get our Triad off the ground, but the process of getting ready for the program had stalled out a few times for us. So when my two friends’ and my schedules suddenly provided an opening to start, it hit me: we’re doing this! I’m gonna have to sideline All the Paul for a bit! And we will come back to All the Paul, perhaps even at times in the middle of the Triad study, whenever there may be a week that my friends and I can’t meet up. And there’s bound to be plenty of Paul in the Triad study program, so all you Paulheads needn’t worry.
The first week’s passage is Luke 15, intended to highlight God’s pursuing grace–his desire to restore a world that has run away from his perfect plan for it. In this chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells three parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. In each case, God is represented by a person (a shepherd, woman, father) who is overjoyed to be reunited with a valued thing that has become separated from him. As I grew up, my dad familiarized me with this chapter, pointing out its lesson that God loves lost things.
And as I grew up, I was frequently a literally lost thing. I had a habit of wandering away from my parents, enthralled at a truck stop by an arcade machine (Vindicators, which I had previously only seen in an issue of Nintendo Power) or obsessively riding the elevators in a hotel or office building. A sheep that wanders off from the flock likely has no idea of the danger it’s in; it may not even realize it’s “lost” from its caretaker. In a similar fashion, my dad would remark that the very fact I survived the first eight years of my life was proof of God’s providence.
In particular, I remember when I was five, my family went on a camping trip to Shenandoah Acres in Virginia, along with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother. The campsite had a lake with a slide–and more importantly, a snack bar with an arcade. One evening, I got the itch to do my own thing and wandered off unnoticed to the lake. On the shore, I ran into an older girl, probably about seven, and we had a brief conversation about I’m guessing camping and swimming (I seem to have forgotten). As I walked toward the snack bar and arcade, I felt a persistent sting in my heel. After taking several more stinging steps, I stopped and found I’d stepped on a tack.
Tack removed, I entered the arcade and watched the games’ attract screens in fascination. An unknown length of time later, my mom found me in front of the Toki machine. Do you remember Toki? You control a jungle warrior transformed into a fireball-spitting ape by an evil wizard, who’s kidnapped your girlfriend–anyway, everyone had been worried and trying to find me, and it came as an incredible relief to my parents to discover me only a few hundred feet away in my natural habitat, surrounded by video games. From there on out, they ensured that someone was watching me at all times, and that I didn’t leave the campsite without permission and a chaperone. It wasn’t punishment so much as discipline, and given that the only negative consequence was a brief sense of shame that I felt around my cousins, I got off pretty easy.
I can kind of put myself in the shoes of the Prodigal Son. My expedition to the arcade didn’t turn out nearly as awfully as the Prodigal Son’s venture, but it certainly could have; like a lone wandering sheep, I was oblivious to my own vulnerability, even in a relatively safe place like the lake at Shenandoah Acres. And my feelings of shame as ‘the cousin who went missing’ faintly echoed the son’s shame when he says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (21). But I was welcomed back, and my family wanted to make sure that for the rest of the trip, we all had a fun, safe time.
But the stories only go so far. Jesus’ parables illustrate God’s joy at bringing a repenting sinner into his family, whether for the first time or the fiftieth. But God is omniscient, and neither a shepherd, nor a woman with a missing coin, nor a father with a missing son know where their lost being is. We get lost in the sense that we become separated from God, and even as we put more distance between him and us, he still knows exactly where we are. But a sheep, a coin, a son with a wild hair are possibly the furthest things from omniscience you can imagine, and none of them (save possibly the son at the end) truly realizes the gravity of their situation. When we go missing, God isn’t the one in the dark–we are.