The Diverse Power of God's Story

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  August 17, 2013

We live by the power of the story. It defines us, informs us, motivates us, and elicits emotional reactions within us. The problem with the story, however, is that there are so many stories to hear and believe and often they are all contained within the same story. 

Take, for example, one of the stories that Jesus told. Commonly known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” the familiar story is a brilliant overlapping of at least four different stories. Told in Luke 15, it recalls the experience of a young man who claims his share of the father’s money, squanders it in sinful living, returns in disgrace, is welcomed by his dad, and despised by his older brother. Within this parable are at least four conflicting stories arising from the diverse perspectives of each character in the parable.  

The prodigal son’s story is one of self-discovery. He believed his father’s house was holding him back and needed to spread his wings to make himself into the man he believed he wanted to be. Broken and beaten, his story is one of a disgraced man with a rehearsed apology and humble acceptance that his formerly rich and opulent life will be lived in slavery to his father. In his story, he was no longer worthy to be called a son. 

His older brother has quite a different story. His story is one of unappreciated servanthood for his whole life. Complaining to his father about how he had slaved all his life without even enjoying the blessing of a cheap goat to party with his friends, his story is one of bitterness and contempt because life should be fair, and clearly his father did not honor such fairness. 

Their father actually has two stories in contrast to those two his sons tell. To the younger son the father tells a story of grace, gratitude, and restoration. In the father’s story to his youngest, the boy was fully loved and truly worthy of the title of son.  The foolish mistakes of the past were insignificant in comparison to the power of the father’s love. 

The father’s story to the older son is very simple. “Everything that I have is yours.” The older son is an equal, a trusted partner in the family business, and the only one who will have ultimate authority over the father’s affairs. The son’s work ethic, devotion, and trustworthiness has been his defining characteristic all along and, in all fairness, will be returned to him in full blessing because he has always been fully and unconditionally loved. 

Each story is accurate and fully defendable. There is no “wrong” story among the four as each of these men clearly understand the story from a very specific perspective, set of experiences, and emotional foundation. Even when telling two different stories, the father never deviates from his truth because he is relating to two vastly different situations. 

One parable, four stories. It is a vivid example of our shared life in faith. There is one Bible and yet, countless stories, interpretations, and applications of its sacred truths. Each story relates to unique circumstances and appeals to specific life experiences we have. 

The story speaks and resonates precisely because it connects with the heart of our experience. There are times when one may connect more intimately with one of the brothers and not the father in this story. There are times when the father’s gratitude for the returning son means more to us than his long appreciation for the older son. The fact is that the stories reach us right where we are, right where we most need to hear them, and right where they can do the most good for our lives at that moment. That is the power of the story—God’s story!