Everyone, it seems, knows the story of the Prodigal Son. Found in Luke 15, Jesus uses this parable and two others to explain his association with the lowest of the low. The drama in each of the three is found in the search for something that has been lost, and the joy that is had when that lost thing is found, or comes home. The Prodigal Son, in particular, reveals the unconditional nature of God’s forgiveness.
There is more to this story, however, and it is found in what Jesus does not say.
The Prodigal Son (we’ll call him Joe), is a snot. He decides that he wants his inheritance and he wants to go out and do whatever he pleases. His father (we’ll call him Bob) acquiesces to his request and sends Joe on his way. Eventually Joe figures out that this was an incredibly stupid move and comes home. Bob welcomes him with open arms and big party. There’s also some other stuff in there about Joe’s brother (we’ll call him Sam) being offended, because he’s been faithful and good and done all the things that Joe didn’t want to.
I love this story. The image of Bob greeting Joe gets me every single time.
We all really like that God will forgive us. That’s cool. What we don’t like so much is that He requires our obedience after His forgiveness. Consider our friend Joe here. Are we really going to assume that Bob would take him back and then continue to finance his debauched lifestyle? Of course not. The implicit condition is that Joe recognized how wrong he was, and that he understood that coming home would mean living under his father’s rule.
Any parent who might be reading this here blog really gets this. Part of loving a child is setting boundaries for them. As they grow older, those boundaries shift and a greater sense of both freedom and responsibility is found, but it is still, quite rightly, “my house, my rules.” The parents of a drug addict are not likely to allow their son to do a line of coke on the coffee table. The guardians of a promiscuous teen are not likely to allow her to sleep around in their home.
The door is always open, but staying inside requires some effort.
So, tell me, why do we think it is unfair for God to define the terms of our salvation?
His offer is thrown out to everyone. Like the true Parent that He is, He opens the door for His children. He tells us how much He loves us, His intentional creation, and works to woo us back into His arms. Though He allows the natural consequences of our decisions to occur, He always there, always ready to protect us and teach us.
Isn’t that what any parent would do? Wouldn’t anyone say, “Listen, child. This is the way home. You can come back any time. I want you to come back. But if you do, you know how things must be?”
God is holy, and so He is whole. Not one of His attributes outweighs the other. He is gracious and forgiving, but He is also just. We want that of our human parents, so why do we not want that of God? Why do we whine, moan and complain? Why do we stamp our feet and say that one way Home is ridiculous or unfair?
And when we’ve come Home, why do we cheapen His grace by persistently refusing to live as He asks? Shoot, He doesn’t even ask much, for it is by His strength, His heart and His presence within us that we are able to love, to forgive, to live fairly and generously.
I spent a good many years not only as a prodigal, but as a hypocrite. Mouthing platitudes by day, partying by night. It makes no sense. We want to have His forgiveness and then treat it like a free pass. We think, “Oh, I’m covered. I can do what I want.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t read the Parable of the Prodigal as some sort of call to legalistic living. I simply think that if we really take the time to consider the fact that God Himself paved the way for us to come Home by His death and resurrection when He certainly didn’t have to, we’ll stop shaking our fists and stop looking for ways to flout Him.
He adores us.
He made us specifically and specially.
He wants us to come Home – and stay Home.