I am excited. This past weekend I heard God referred to as "the God of the ditches, the God who resides in the sorrowfulness, brokenness, and messiness of life." To me, that is refreshing and absolutely authentic. There is deep hope that resides in this understanding. Throughout scripture, we are reminded of the God of the mountaintops, there with Moses as he receives the Torah, there with Jesus as he experiences the transfiguration. Honestly, I am more interested in the God of the ditches.
For a large part of my life I lived in the ditches; the valleys where the shadow of death was cast across every square inch of terrain. My struggle to drag my way out of these valleys was always futile. I could see the mountaintops residing in the distance, but had no idea how to make my way there. "If only," was my mantra. Like some Tolkien narrative, God must reside there in the mountaintops, but I was stuck, like Bilbo Baggins, there in the valleys. Faced with the daunting task of returning to God by way of a treacherous and a damn-near impossible journey, the valleys held little hope for me. There was a point, while stumbling over the endless obstacles of the valley floor, that I cried out to God, "Lord help me make my way back to you." Surely, God could not reside in such brokenness.
Perhaps the Prodigal son felt this same way. There in the ditches, filled with slop, the Prodigal son settled on eating with the pigs. Imagine the sensory experience of this. Finding yourself face down in a ditch eating with pigs. I have been there, and believe me, I don't know how much lower you can get than that. Now, the parable is not absolutely clear on how the son "came to himself," but something spoke to him there in the ditch. Perhaps it was the owner who had hired him to tend to the pigs, perhaps it was a talking pig or the telepathic cry of his father waiting at home. Perhaps, it was the still small voice of God, there in the ditches, that assured him of hope, that all was not lost, that there were brighter days ahead, that their were infinite possibilities. However it came to him, it came to him there in the ditch.
The hope-filled message here is that this Prodigal son's transformation happened knee-deep in a ditch. And isn't that where God meets us, right where we are at? People, God is not waiting for your return in some warm home, on some far away mountaintop. God is there, in the shadows, in the cold, in the hunger, in the broken, sorrowful, messy places of our lives. Trust this and see.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me"