This summer, our local friend was very upset that her brother-in-law, who lives in the same building as her, was very sick. The doctor feared the worst and the family was beside themselves with grief.
We decided to visit them to console them according to local custom, and while we were there, we asked if we could pray for healing in the name of Jesus.
The young man and his parents were very moved by our prayers and in response to Luke’s affirmation that God cares deeply about all people, the man’s father mentioned a saying from his religious tradition that is attributed to God:
“If my servant draws near a hand’s breadth, I will draw near the length of an arm. And if he draws near the length of an arm, I will draw near the length of outspread arms, and if he comes to me walking, I will come to him running.”
As soon as we heard that, the image that popped into our minds was a scene from the story of the prodigal son. In this story, God’s grace is shown in the reaction of the father, who when he sees his reckless and wasteful son coming home, runs to welcome him and to protect him from those who might harass him or try to get revenge on him for his dishonourable deeds.
Isn’t this a great bridge to help people learn about God’s merciful and loving character?
We greatly rejoiced with our friend when she told us the next day that the lab reports had come back saying that her brother-in-law had tuberculosis, which, while quite a serious condition, is treatable. The young man was able to follow through with his plans to get married at the end of summer.
This experience brought home to us the importance of looking for bridges in the local culture as we seek to communicate the truths of the gospel. In this case, the word used for God running in the traditional saying would be useful to use in the story of the prodigal son, as a hint to the analogy with God as a loving Father. Even though the idea of God having human attributes (e.g. running) is rejected in popular religious thought, the presence of the idea in the traditional saying shows that these attributes can be acceptable if the right word is used.