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The prodigal son

by Jacob Ninan

When Adam and Eve were created, they were perfectly happy! How was that possible? It was because they had God! God was their Father, Friend, Counsellor, Guide, and Provider. He was everything that they needed – so much so that they didn’t even feel any need. There was nothing to trouble them and they could freely enjoy everything He had created for them.

What happened when they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not only that they sinned and disobeyed God. They had chosen to become independent of God. What Satan told Eve was that they could become like God, knowing good and evil. What they were actually choosing was to have knowledge in themselves without depending on God. When they declared themselves independent of God with this act, they actually became separated from God! They lost their connection with God altogether and then onwards they were on their own. This was the death God had warned them about. Now they became altogether miserable. What they thought was going to be a good thing for them – to make them wise like God, which Satan deceived them with – turned out to deprive them totally from all God provided for them.

Some of us think that we haven’t done any serious sins like murder or adultery, and so we imagine that we must be OK with God. But what we have all done is to live for ourselves – ‘doing our own thing’ – and so we have all eaten from the tree of knowledge. We can’t blame Adam and Eve for our misery, because we too have chosen to be independent of God and have our own way.

Frank Sinatra sang a song which became very famous in his day, called, My way in which he said, “I did it my way,” in some kind of a boasting way! Of course, he was only singing a song. But this was a picture of a man wanting to do things – run his life – in his own way (and not submitting to God’s way). This is the root of sin. All sin is essentially to do our own thing when God has asked us to do something else. What God has for us is the best ever, but we still choose to ignore that and do our own will.

Now when we look at ourselves we can see that all of us have sinned (Rom.3:23), not just once but many times and in many different ways. And, as it happened to Adam and Eve, we suffer the death of being away from God. The only way we can be reunited with God is through Jesus Christ.

Look at the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24. What the younger son did was to choose to get away from the presence of the father and live his own way. ‘Prodigal’ son means a wasteful son. He wasted all that his father had provided for him when he went looking for things which he hoped would be more attractive. But he learned at the end that there was nothing better than what he had with his father at home.

In this story, the father represented God and His love for people. The prodigal son can represent two types of people. Let us look at both of them one after the other.

First, he represents all those who have chosen to ignore God and live for themselves, to seek things for themselves. God has planned the best for all people, but many of them, or most of them according to Jesus (Matt.7:13,14), are going their own way, not knowing that they are headed for destruction. They could be seeking pleasure, fame, fun, thrill, wealth, love, attention – and they think God is standing in their way of achieving these goals. They think God’s ways are too narrow, restrictive or only suitable for the old people.

We should not think that this is only about people who are out and out living for sin and its pleasures. Many people who go to church regularly do it out of a sense of duty but live their lives for themselves and not for God fall under the same category. Many others who appear to be very religious, attending Bible study and prayer meetings may also be living for themselves in their inner life. Jesus compared the Pharisees as those who looked impressive on the outside while they were like rotting flesh inside tombs (Matt.23:27).

The deciding question is if we are living according to our own desires or subject to God’s laws for us.

God the Father is waiting for all of them to come to Him so that He can receive them and they can enjoy their life with Him to the full (Jn.10:10). Hopefully, they get to hear messages that tell them where they are heading and show them how to get back to God.

The second group of people whom this prodigal son represents are those who are born again children of God but who have strayed away from Him or backslidden over time. They had come to know God as their Father through Jesus the Saviour. But then they were attracted by something they saw in the world for which they chose to disobey God – here a little and there a little at first. Now, they may be still legally His children and they may still call themselves believers, but for all practical purposes they have lost interest in God, and they have begun to think that His laws are burdensome.

Another reason why believers backslide is that they have been ‘disappointed’ with God because He hasn’t answered some of their prayers or taken them out of some difficulties. But the fact is that they have misunderstood God. Even when we cannot understand His ways, we must still trust Him, knowing that He has only good plans for us.

Yet another reason could be that because of God’s blessings, things are just fine for them and they don’t see any need. People who had sought God when they were in need have forgotten about God now that everything is going well in their life. God warned the people of Israel, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deut.8:10,11).

Again, the question is if we are basically living for ourselves or for God. “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2Cor.5:14,15). This is how a believer should live. And it is only then that we can enjoy all that our Father has prepared for us.

The turning point came in the life of the prodigal son when “he came to his senses.” It is when the unbelieving sinner or the backslidden Christian comes to their senses and realises where they really stand in relation to God and what that implies to their future that they start walking towards God. He is waiting to receive all such repentant people.

Finally, what would have happened if the prodigal son realised that his money was running short and decided to get back to his father for more supplies? I think he would have been totally disappointed because there was no repentance. When Esau realised that he had lost his birthright and blessings from his father, he cried bitterly but there was no repentance in his own heart and so he could not receive the blessings (Heb.12:17).

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