At my house, I’m known as the finder of lost things—the reluctant recoverer of wayward car keys, remote controls, cellphones, and purses.
Try as they might, my wife and our daughter cannot seem to find anything that goes missing. Apparently, I see differently than they do, and I have no idea why. Maybe I’m simply the domestic equivalent of a particular sleuth (and please pardon the pun): Sherlock “Homes.”
Perhaps this is why I felt the gravitational pull of the Gospel of Luke’s parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son when my Sunday School class studied them recently. Reverberating louder than anything else from these stories, at least for this reader, is the joy of the finder. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” Luke 15:7 reads.
That God delights in finding lost things—or rather, lost people—challenges me.
For one thing, I’m uncomfortable with the way Christians use the term “lost” to describe those who do not follow Jesus, so I rarely associate delight with searching for those who have strayed. Labeling people almost always oversimplifies them, transforming otherwise complex creations of God into caricatures of themselves. It can also establish an us-and-them mentality that does not square with Scripture: Isaiah writes, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). All of us, then, know or have known lostness. I know that even with Christ as my compass, I have wandered and desperately longed to be found.
Labeling people almost always oversimplifies them, transforming otherwise complex creations of God into caricatures of themselves.
Then there’s this: When I focus on God’s joy at the prospect of finding that which is lost, I become aware that my heart does not beat in sync with His—my heart does not leap for my fellow wanderers the way my Maker’s does. As a Christian, shouldn’t I care about the things Jesus cares about? Compared to the steadfast rhythm of God’s loving heart, I have something like spiritual arrhythmia, caring about the welfare of other people in fits and starts. Sometimes when I come across people fumbling in the darkness, I want to introduce them to my very bright friend, Jesus. Other times, I’m less motivated—because I’m fumbling in the dark myself, or I’m lazy, or I feel ill-equipped for the task.
Which brings me back to the three parables in Luke. Even though I’m challenged by a God who delights in entering the human fray “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), I am undeniably attracted to that aspect of the Creator’s character, too. I love that God leaves no stone unturned in His search for us. The one He rolled away from the entrance to the tomb tells us He is even willing to pass through the valley of the shadow of death to find us.
Somehow, the joy God experiences at the prospect of finding us outweighs the suffering that comes with His relentless search. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” That being said, I cannot help but wonder: Couldn’t the same anticipatory joy that motivated the Savior to embrace the cross enable us to overcome our own reluctance to join God in His work? To co-labor with Him, recovering those runaway souls and beloved wanderers who desperately long to be found?
May we see as God sees—and seek as God seeks—when it comes to the lost people we encounter.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory