The Forgiveness of a Loving Father
Who today is in need of God’s forgiveness? How can it be obtained?
WHO is the person that is so righteous that he has no need of forgiveness? Actually there is not one, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is the wise person, therefore, that recognizes his need of forgiveness, and, in harmony with the instructions of the Lord Jesus, humbly prays to God: “Forgive us our sins.”—Rom. 3:23; Luke 11:4.
But will God hear the confessions of the repentant sinner who is truly sorry for his wrongdoing and desires with all his heart to do what is right? Indeed, he will! David, a man well acquainted with the forgiveness of God, sang: “For you, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive; and the loving-kindness to all those calling upon you is abundant.” Years later an assembly of Levites acknowledged: “You are a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.”—Ps. 86:5; Neh. 9:17; Dan. 9:9.
God’s wonderful disposition to forgive is an invitation to all those who may have strayed into sinful ways. So do not feel that you are beyond recovery, that your sins disqualify you from God’s mercy. Take courage in Jehovah’s large capacity to forgive. Accept the invitation: “Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.”—Isa. 55:7.
While he was on the earth Jesus magnified this large capacity of his Father to forgive. Especially did he do so on the occasion when the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees ridiculed him, saying: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responded by giving a series of illustrations in which he vindicated his welcoming of tax collectors and sinners by showing that such ones who repented became beloved by God.—Luke 15:2.
THE LOST SHEEP AND THE DRACHMA COIN
First, he asked which one of those Pharisees would not go searching if one out of his flock of a hundred sheep got lost. He explained that just as there would be great joy on finding that one lost sheep, so there is more joy in heaven over just one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine self-righteous persons who feel no need of repentance. Yes, those that recognize themselves as sinners and who desire to correct their ways make the hearts of God’s heavenly family rejoice.—Luke 15:3-7.
To further illustrate the point, Jesus asked: “What woman with ten drachma coins, if she loses one drachma coin, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it?” He explained that, just as her joy is great on finding this one coin, so great joy arises among God’s heavenly family when just one humble sinner repents and takes up His service.—Luke 15:8-10.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Finally, to magnify the loving forgiveness of his heavenly Father in terms that would touch the heart even more deeply and encourage one to serve God, Jesus told the illustration of the prodigal son. It has been rated as the finest short story ever told by a man.
“A certain man had two sons,” Jesus began. “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the part of the property that falls to my share.’ Then he divided his means of living to them. Later, after not many days, the younger son gathered all things together and traveled abroad into a distant country, and there squandered his property by living a debauched life. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred throughout that country, and he started to be in need. He even went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to herd swine. And he used to desire to be filled with the carob pods which the swine were eating, and no one would give him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many hired men of my father are abounding with bread, while I am perishing here from famine! I will rise and journey to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’” So he rose and went to his father. While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves, because this my son was dead but has come to life again; he was lost but has been found.’ And they started to enjoy themselves.
“Now his older son was in the field; and as he came and got near the house he heard a music concert and dancing. So he called one of the servants to him and inquired what these things meant. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father slaughtered the fattened young bull, because he got him back in good health.’ But he became wrathful and was unwilling to go in. Then his father came out and began to entreat him. In reply he said to his father, ‘Here it is so many years I have slaved for you and never once did I transgress your commandment, and yet to me you never once gave a kid for me to enjoy myself with my friends. But as soon as this your son who ate up your means of living with harlots arrived, you slaughtered the fattened young bull for him.’ Then he said to him, ‘Child, you have always been with me, and all the things that are mine are yours; but we just had to enjoy ourselves and rejoice, because this your brother was dead but has become alive, and he was lost but has been found.’”—Luke 15:11-32.
THE FORGIVING FATHER
How beautifully Jesus described the forgiving disposition of his heavenly Father! To think that the great Creator of the universe would accept a repentant sinner in such a sympathetic, tender manner! Yet Jesus, who knew the Father best, showed by this touching illustration that that is exactly how the Father treats those who have a change of heart and come “home” to serve him.
But this conception of God as a Father who is ready to forgive was not new. Long before, Jehovah himself had explained that he dwelt with lowly ones who felt crushed because of their own sinfulness. He said: “In the height and in the holy place is where I reside, also with the one crushed and lowly in spirit.”—Isa. 57:15.
OBTAINING THE FATHER’S FORGIVENESS
After being jolted to his senses, this was how the prodigal son felt—”crushed and lowly in spirit.” He was truly sorry for his foolish conduct and felt unworthy even to be called a son of his father. So with a repentant, lowly spirit he returned to volunteer as his father’s slave.
Similarly, there were many in the first century from among God’s people of Israel that had forsaken their heavenly Father and were pursuing a wicked course. However, when they heard the Kingdom message preached by John the Baptist and Jesus it shocked them to their senses. They felt sorry for their sinful ways, and, like the prodigal son, they returned to volunteer as slaves of God. Because of their lowly spirit and genuine repentance Jesus warmly welcomed them, even as he illustrated that his heavenly Father had done in a spiritual way. They became Jesus’ disciples and were sent out by him to preach concerning the kingdom of God.
Circumstances are similar today during Christ’s second presence. Prior to 1931 in particular some persons became acquainted with the truths of God’s Word and associated closely with the anointed remnant of Christ’s brothers. But instead of remaining to serve the heavenly Father, they, like the prodigal son, desired to enjoy the pleasures that the present system of things offered. They were not willing to wait to receive the blessings of the Kingdom rule, but wanted material blessings immediately.
In time, however, these modern counterparts of the prodigal son became famished due to the spiritual famine that struck Christendom. They had a change of heart. So, humbling themselves, they returned, confessed their sins and volunteered as slaves of God. Were they accepted? Indeed they were! Just as the loving father tenderly received his prodigal son and honored him with a feast, so these repentant ones of the Lord’s “other sheep” have been honored with a spiritual feast of fat things and many privileges of service. They too have become active preachers of the kingdom of God. How loving and merciful the Father is toward those that recognize their need of forgiveness and return to him!
Since all have sinned, all can benefit from the humility and contriteness of heart demonstrated by the prodigal son. Not only did he feel sorry for his sins, but he proved his repentance by confessing his wrongdoing and requesting to be allowed to serve his father. If you want the favor and forgiveness of the heavenly Father you must do the same. Do not hold back! Do not let a feeling of unworthiness prevent you from turning to God to serve Him. Take courage, for Jehovah is “good and ready to forgive; and the loving-kindness to all those calling upon [him] is abundant.”—Ps. 86:5.