The night I bought Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, it was cold and wet and the roads in Wichita were getting a little risky. I was also on the edge of being very sick. A cough put me in the downstairs bedroom and made sleep impossible that night, so I read. The whole book actually. I could not put this book down.
There is a lot to love about this book. The prose is like poetry. The characters are compelling. And reading this novel, which is the journal of an elderly pastor, was encouraging to me as a pastor.
But the best part of the story is the character of Jack. He is the rebellious son of Reverend Ames’ best friend, who is also a pastor. He has come home. And he is hard to like. His exploits as a young man are hard to endure. Has he come home now as a prodigal?
The whole story is about reconciliation and the work of grace in the life of not only Jack, but also of Reverend Ames. You can’t help but wonder how you would receive such a person as Jack.
We like stories of reconciliation. Often it’s because they are unexpected, like in the story of Jacob and Esau. You can feel Jacob’s anxiety as he organizes his family and gets ready to meet Esau and his men. He is expecting a show of force. At most, he is hoping for a cold reception that is peaceable. After all, Jacob had taken the birthright from Isaac that was due Esau and had become the prodigal son.
But Jacob gets far more than he expected. He gets a warm welcome beyond anything he could imagine. In fact, in the story we read that Esau ran to his brother and embraced him and kissed him and they both wept. A little later he tells Esau that seeing his face was “like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10).
That is a powerful picture of reconciliation. When Jacob looked at Esau, his brother, who had much to be angry about but instead offered forgiveness, he saw the face of God. He saw what God was like.
Did you hear the reverse echo of another reconciliation story that shows us what God is like? In the Prodigal Son, we have another shady character who needs to be forgiven. We have the expectation of a cold reception. And we have the undignified forgiveness and love of two people reconciled.
Maybe you have sinned recently in a way that makes it hard for you to believe that, if you go to God, He will receive you with anything other than a cold reception. But you would be wrong. Because of the forgiveness accomplished by Jesus on the cross, He will always run to you, embrace you, kiss you, and weep at your return to Him. And you will look at Him and say, “This is the face of God.” This is what God is like.
Written By Matthew B. Redmond