SIMPLE TRUTH: Our prodigal God

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

By Charles Christmas

I read a book recently titled “The Prodigal God,” by Timothy Keller, which is an insightful and interesting commentary on what we normally know as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Out of my thought-provoking experience, I desire to share some simple truths that are real to me. My assumption is that you are acquainted with this parable in Luke 15:11-32. If not, please read it. I believe a correct title for the parable is “Two Prodigal Sons and a Prodigal Father.” The definition of the word “prodigal” is “unlimited extravagance.”

With this definition, let’s consider the prodigal younger brother. He told his father, “I want my share of the inheritance now. I want to leave you, my family and community; to be on my own to do what I want, as I please. The father granted the request. His journey was marked by his unlimited extravagance and the squandering of his resources on his own desires and the desires of others. At the dead end of his journey, he was penniless, homeless and hungry. At this point, he remembered his father and God. He was ready to admit failure toward God and father, reverse his direction, and change his attitude from one of self-centeredness and pride to one of humility. Out of a feeling of unworthiness, he would ask only for a bit of mercy and grace from his father: “May I just be a hired worker under one of your servants in order that I may begin life again?”

Consider the unlimited extravagance of the prodigal father. Learning that the younger son was returning, the father, moved by compassion, ran to welcome him with a hug of love and a welcome kiss. He broke into the son’s confession at the point: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He commanded his servant: “Clothe him with the best robe, put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet; and use the best meat available for a feast of celebration that will include music and dancing. My son was lost and is found; was dead and is alive again.” So they began to celebrate with joy and merriment. The unlimited extravagance of the father’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and unrestrained joy is beyond imagination.

Finally, let’s examine the unlimited extravagance of the prodigal older son. Returning from working in the field, the older brother heard the music and dancing, and inquired of a servant what this meant. He was informed that his father had provided an extravagant celebration in response to the younger brother returning home safe and sound. The older son became angry and refused to participate. He totally opposed his father’s feelings, attitude and action. The father left the celebration and went to the older son to plead with him: “Your brother was lost and is found. It was like he was dead and is alive again. I must be true to who I am, and have no other choice but to celebrate.” The older brother responded in anger: “I am the one who has worked and kept the rules, lived a moral life, and never brought shame on your name. I am the one who has deserved and earned the celebrations. I have never needed any grace or mercy from you. He may be your son, but he is not my brother. He has devoured all his inheritance on harlots, and now you throw this extravagant celebration!” The older son was extravagant without limits in proclaiming his self-righteousness. He had not gone away from the father’s house, but far away from his father’s heart. He was in the far country, where he knew nothing of his father’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and a new beginning. In reality, he did not know his father.

The good news is that there is hope for failures like those of the younger brother, and for the self-righteous sinners like the older brother. I fit into both categories. Our prodigal God acted with unlimited extravagance on our behalf. The Bible says, in Romans 8:32: “God did not spare even his own son, but gave him up for us all.” Stop now and meditate on that truth.

—Charles Christmas is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Thursday.