The story known as “The Prodigal Son” told in the gospel of Luke (chapter 15) is well known to many people throughout the world, both Christians and non-Christians. The story is so popular, I believe, because so many of us can relate to it. Many of us, I expect, can identify with the story’s main character, the young son. Like this son, most of us have experienced a time where we were in a bad place, either physically or emotionally or spiritually, where we have needed rescued. This has always been my viewpoint when reading and thinking through this parable told by Jesus. However, yesterday another perspective was shown to me, that of the father in the story.
In the parable, the young prideful son demands his inheritance and leaves his father’s home to go on a journey, where he subsequently squanders the inheritance and finds himself in poverty and alone (in a pig pin, nonetheless). The young man then humbles himself and goes reluctantly to his father to ask for a job. The father sees his son and immediately runs to him and hugs him, celebrating the boy’s return. Now as a father myself, I began to think of my relationship with my children. What if they get up one day and demand their inheritance money because they want to leave me? What if they decide one day to leave and basically reject me, severing our relationship? I know how I would feel: extreme, indescribable pain. Just thinking of this scenario causes a deep “punch in the gut” feeling of nausea and hurt.
These thoughts challenged me, and made me identify with the father in the story, rather than the lost son. In the story we fully and openly see the love and forgiveness of this father. Most, if not all of us, “get that” about him. But what is not directly told in the story is something I never contemplated until yesterday: the pain and rejection the father experienced. To finally grasp this part of the story has brought its significance into a greater perspective, and more importantly, into a greater appreciation. Understanding his overwhelming love and forgiveness when his young son returns is only complete when we fully realize the hurt he felt when the boy rejected him earlier.
It is the same with God, our Father in Heaven. We know of His great love and forgiveness for us because of Jesus Christ, but we often ignore the pain and hurt we cause Him when we reject Him. Like the young son, we may rebel and leave Him. But like the father in the story, He will not hesitate for a second to accept us with love and forgiveness when we come back. Understanding His pain caused by our rejection is essential to fully appreciate His love and acceptance when we return.
I have always loved the moral of this story, that no matter how lost we get in this life, we have a loving Father who will always love us and take us back. I’m glad I did not need to become broke, tired, dirty, and alone in a pig pin to realize I was spiritually lost. But more importantly, I am so thankful I have a loving Father that, despite the pain I have caused Him, rejoiced and celebrated when I returned.
“‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is now found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:24 (NIV)