I have a confession to make: there have been times I’ve doubted the Prodigal’s motives when reading this piece.
“When he came to his senses…” (Luke 15:17a)
Biblical commentators make much of the phrase “came to his senses”. Jesus seems to be describing a soul gone mad from sin, detached from reason, and only just now waking up.
Most skeptics think that Christians are the ones detached from reality. Hearing voices, imaginary friends, etc. They say reason leads away from faith.
They’re using the wrong wisdom. When 1 Corinthians 2:14 says “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised”, commentators identify the natural man as unregenerated, governed by carnal motives – labeling even earthly wisdom as carnal and prideful. It can’t reveal God.
Sure, that’s a convenient thing to say to a skeptic. It sounds to them like circular reasoning.
But that has no bearing on whether it’s true. It’s kinda like the 9/11 dilemma for the skeptic. Is the “official story” favorable to the government that tells it? You betcha. Does that make it untrue? Nope.
As the son begged while even the servants at home ate their fill, so the world’s greatest philosophers can’t attain the wisdom available to the meanest Christian.
“…he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’ I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ” (15:17b-19)
Hallelujah. He gets it. The story is turning.
But again…there have been times when I’ve been unimpressed.
I mean, the Prodigal seems kind of mercenary here. Is he returning out of devotion to his father or regret over the way he’s treated his father, or out of self-interest? I haven’t yet found a commentator who doubted his sincerity, but…I dunno. It seems easy to repent when you’re in a pickle.
You know what this reminds me of, since we’re hitting this in February? The church’s purity movement (yep, this again – just one more time – though I speak of the church in general and not really my church), and how it teaches us to stay sexually pure for almost every motive except the most important. We get the usual sobering statistics of STDs and pregnancies; they seem to get more sobering every year. We’re warned about regret and loss of virtue. The wiser churches, like mine, speak about the spiritual attachments and oppression, and the separation from God, with which we inflict ourselves through sexual encounters far too soon. All true.
And how many of us singles have been trained to say “I’m saving myself for my future spouse?” Why are so few of us saying “I’m saving myself to honor the God who created me”?
Probably because it’s easier to care about our future spouses than about God.
Sorry. Just callin’ it like I see it. I know I’ve been guilty of this.
But when King David was confronted by his prophet over his sins of adultery and effective murder, he said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13). In the psalm he wrote in repentance of that sin, he said to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). 1 Corinthians 6 reveals that when we sin sexually, we sin against God’s temple and property, paid for at a terrible price.
It is God against whom we sin first and foremost; it is God to whom we must give an account.
That is the only motive that will survive the test of disappointment. We’re often told that sexual holiness will lead to a better wedding night or married sex life. For some it does. But what if it doesn’t? Some virgins marry and struggle anyway. There is only a tenuous link between holiness and reward in this life, partially because we’re constantly having our motives refined, partially because we have an enemy out to steal, kill, and destroy. And, heck – what if you never marry? What will your earthly reward be then?
It is not wrong to teach about the secondary consequences of purity. But only when we make God our foremost reward will we find deepest joy.
Fortunately, Jesus is the one telling the story and not me. And in his story, the Prodigal Son figures it out. He prepares to tell his father that he has sinned against heaven and against his father. Regardless of what catalyzed his return, he knows the score.
And I suppose we should at least credit the wastrel (I got that word from a commentator, love it) for seeing the poverty of sin and being willing to humble himself to escape. Some people will just keep on scraping for pig slop rather than coming home.
The best news of all?
The father is about to welcome the young man home, whatever his motive. He will not turn his son away.
Oh sorry, was that for Thursday? Did I forget a spoiler tag?