As I reflected on the importance of God’s faithfulness in our lives, I was reminded of a prayer of Soren Kierkegaard:
Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.
You have loved us first, O God, alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You have only loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing You have loved us first many times and every day and our whole life through. When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You – You are the first – You have loved us first; if I rise at dawn and at the same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me, You have loved me first. When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are the first and thus forever. And yet we always speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.
And so we see again, the inextricable relation of love with another one of the fruit of the Spirit. And we see again how God’s first action should result in our own proactiveness in relation to others. Let us love the unlovely, offer joy amidst sorrow and depression, bring peace in turmoil, be patient with the restive, be kind to the unkind, repay evil with good, and prove faithful in this ever-changing, fickle world.
This transformed life we are called to live by the power of the Holy Spirit is not simply for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. It is for those that we encounter, and for those that will follow behind us. As the Steve Green song says, “May those who come behind us find us faithful.” Just as we stand on the shoulders of the faithful from Hebrews 11 through those who we have been blessed to encounter in our own lifetimes, so we must be found faithful for those God has placed within our sphere of influence.
But what happens when “The Older Brother Syndrome” kicks in? When one gets tired of being the dependable, honest, loyal, faithful one? As someone who made a decision for Christ at an early age, I’ve always tended to sympathize with the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But here we come full circle, for the Father is faithful in His restoration of all His children. While the younger son’s complete severing of relations is overt, the older son, in his anger, similarly distances himself:
“The prodigal is no longer his brother; he is “this son of yours” (v. 30). The pejorative “this” (Fitzmyer 1985, 1091), “son” instead of “brother,” and “yours” instead of “mine” bespeak the radicality of exclusion….The older one will not be the “brother-of-the-prodigal” and hence for him the prodigal is not “my brother.” …For the first time in the whole story, in the older brother’s explanation of his anger, the father is not addressed as “father.” He has become just another “you” (vv. 29-30)….
…But though the older son “un-fathers” the father, the father not only holds on to him (as he held onto the prodigal while the prodigal was in the distant country), but states clearly that the relationship has not been broken….
…For the father, the priority of the relationship means not only a refusal to let moral rules be the final authority regulating “exclusion” and “embrace” but also a refusal to construct his own identity in isolation from his sons, He readjusts his identity along with the changing identities of his sons and thereby reconstructs their broken identities and relationships. He suffers being “un-fathered” by both, so that through this suffering he may regain both as his sons (if the older brother was persuaded) and help them rediscover each other as brothers. [Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miraslov Volf, pp. 156-165]
Let us, then, draw on that faithfulness of God, knowing that in every moment, it is He that loves us first, transforming us through His love that we may be found faithful, and that our relationships might be restored not only with our Father, but with our brothers and sisters.