We are all prodigals in Millennium Park.
You wake in the park after a night of self destructive binging with a map. Your money is gone, your friends are gone, and you smell terrible. You ran away from home with half of your Father’s money and a GIGANTIC ego trip. Now, a few weeks later, you’re face down in goose poop, and you’re cold and hungry. But you wake up with a map.
On the map is a hand written note that says “I’m here. When you wake up, come to me and I’ll drive you home- love dad.” An arrow points to an X a few miles away, and the address is written out in bold letters. You can hardly believe your eyes. Your Father has given you a map to where he is! And he is waiting to take you home! You were sure he was going to send a pack of wolves to eat you, because you kind of deserve that. But He is waiting to take you home! All you need to do it go to him.
There are other people in the park. People with other maps. One guy has a map of New York and tries to argue that HIS map is better because, you know, it’s New York. You try to explain that we’re in Chicago, but he’s not open to discussion.
“Your map is so lame, it doesn’t even tell you where Yankee Stadium is!”
“That’s because we’re in Chicago,” you explain. “There is no Yankee Stadium in Chicago.”
“And THAT, my friend, is why you need a map like mine. You’ll never get anywhere with that lame, sissy map of yours.”
A woman with dreadlocks in serious need of a washing overhears our conversation and argues that ALL maps are valid, and all maps lead to where our hearts want to go, as long as we follow them with sincerity.
You show her the address where your Father’s note says he is waiting, but she tries to argue that your Father is waiting anywhere you want Him to be, because that’s what a loving Father would do.
Other people offer their maps to replace yours. Jewish maps stop at the Chicago river. Your map shows many blocks past the river, and you try to show them that the small print on their map implies that the North side is on the other side of the River, even though it’s not drawn in clearly, but they don’t want to hear it.
Islamic maps have some streets with the same names but all going in different directions than our map of the city. It lists the river as a blue highway, and you start to notice that its mostly hand-drawn, with several pieces taped together as if from a collection of other maps.
The Map of Mormon is a map of Seattle with the street names all changed to match your map of Chicago. They try to argue that you both have the same map, but when you suggest they make a copy of yours, they reluctantly reveal that their mothers would never forgive them if they did. When you ask why their mothers would be angry when they are claiming your maps are the same, they quickly end the conversation and ride away on their bikes.
The Atheist has a blank sheet of paper and a crayon. He offers hateful insults against your map and insists that it is completely inaccurate, but he also does his best to avoid looking at it. When you suggest that the map he’s been drawing doesn’t match the city around you, he also ends the conversation and runs away, shouting curses at you all the while.
You come upon a Liberal preacher who has the same map but keeps editing it. She colors over jails and garbage dumps because she does not like them, renames streets and adds buildings she wishes were there. She also offers to add any features you like if you pledge to tithe to her church. You notice that she is using the same crayons as the Atheist.
Offering to be helpful, Satan takes map and reads it for you, leading you in the wrong direction and lying about what the map and note says. Its not long before he is suggesting that you imagined the note written on the map. “Would your father REALLY ask you to meet him in Chicago?” he asks. “If he REALLY cared about you, wouldn’t he ask you where YOU wanted to meet? Wouldn’t he have just left you the car instead of a map?”
You decide to take the map back and read it for yourself so you can follow it to your Father.
It is a long and winding trip, especially because you stop following the map to ask others for directions, but eventually you do find your Father, right where he said he would be. You approach sheepishly, trying to think of a way to apologize for the way you treated him and squandered his money living like a self destructive idiot, but before you can get close enough to read the license plate, you look up to see him running toward you at full sprint. For a second you brace yourself, thinking he is going to plow into you line a linebacker, but as he approaches you see he is smiling. You are pulled into the biggest and most enthusiastic hug of your life, and he practically carries you to the car.
You are headed home.
As you drive through the city, the people with other maps see you and begin shouting, some of them throw rocks or bottles at the car. A few chase the car, yelling more reasons why your map is a fraud and you need to buy a copy of theirs. But you can sit back in the heated leather seats, roll up the windows, and tell your Father that you’re glad to be headed toward home.
A Map of Chicago. If you are in New York, it does you no good. If you are in Chicago, a map of Narnia or Middle Earth will do you no good. Actually, ANYWHERE you are, a map of Narnia or Middle Earth will do you no good because neither of those are REAL places.
Religions and world views are like maps of reality. They do you no good unless the map matches the world as it really is.
The job of the Christian apologist is to show how the street signs we can read match the map we have, so we can build trust in our map and use it to get home. #JesusLovesYou