So perhaps this story has a different ending. Maybe it’s not the prodigal son’s fault after all! The father was enabling his errant son, misplacing his trust, and wasting his resources. What was he thinking?
As I look back through Scripture, though, I see many examples of this from God. There was the time Moses angrily hit the stone instead of obediently talking to it—and God brought forth water. There was the time the Israelites demanded a king for themselves—and God granted them Saul, the tall, handsome, and momentarily wise youth. Even the Promised Land that God gave to His chosen people—the crowning jewel in the Israelite’s glory and the empirical proof that they were set apart—even that became the altar for Baal, the site of wastefulness and want, and the comfort that brought lackadaisicalness and rebellion. God knew when He led the Israelites out and when He fed and cared for them and gave them His Law and taught them and blessed them and cleared the land of their enemies and settled them into the land of their dreams—He knew that one day, the Israelites would become so abominable and repugnant that He would be compelled to bring in conquering enemies to subdue the Hebrews and inhabit their land for centuries. What was He thinking?
Without an inheritance, the prodigal son would be safely tucked in at home, with none of that sinful living on his conscience. Without land, the Israelites would still be slaves in Egypt, living a hard life but having no opportunity for rebellion. Without the blessings of America, I would be living a much different life much more selflessly and much less materialistically. And then I look back at my trust soup—it’s thick and black right now. Do I give the inheritance, the blessing, and the trust, when I know as certainly as I can recite the story of the prodigal son that it will only bring more sin, rebellion, and pain?
The inheritance of Luke 15:11-31 represents much more than simply wealth, though, and understanding this is crucial to understanding how to deal with energy-takers in our lives. The word used in Luke 15:12 and 13 comes from a Greek word exclusive to the story of the prodigal son—the New Testament does not use this word anywhere else. Even more perplexing is the fact the ousia is generally defined as “being,” and was in fact used by the early church to show that God is three distinct parts in one being (ousia). Obviously, the prodigal son had a nominal relationship with his father, just as many Americans today have a nominal relationship with God. Based upon this, he demanded his being, his substance—his inheritance, just as many worldly Christians “endure” a relationship with God only for what He will give them (does the Prayer of Jabez ring a bell?). In demanding such a thing, however, the prodigal son emptied his soul and filled his being with earthly treasure.
Suddenly, the snowstorm is waning and my trust soup is becoming more translucent. Most of us have people in our lives who only tolerate us because of what we can do for them. It is at the moment when we exhaust ourselves and give them everything we can (which, honestly, is sometimes nothing but time and energy) that we discover if this person ever desired a relationship or if they will skip town and squander the blessings of our relationship. This is painful and difficult, and not always the correct course of action--but it is one God has consistently demonstrated through history because of His unconditional love.
This is when the fools will separate from the searchers. And if my relationship goes south in the back pocket of my friend the fool, then at least I know. In most cases, I should not (nor will I have to) be the rejector. Israel left God quite easily on their own, and the prodigal son happily tramped away from his loving father. After rejection, I will not interfere, and I cannot help with more time, energy, or resources—the natural consequences of sin must run their course. But if someone comes running back to me after running back to God in sincere repentance, then I will be ready, because forgiveness is not an option. It is the least I can do—after all, I was that fool once.
Painting: The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return, James Tissot, 1882.