Oh how typical… A Christian writing about the prodigal son. Well, hopefully, this is a new perspective on the old parable.
I wrote a couple months ago about attaining Heaven without relationship in a post about the Twilight Zone. In a particular episode, an old man won’t be separated from his dog even in the afterlife because the dog saved his life once. He even appears to give up a chance at entering Heaven only to find that he was being tricked into entering Hell and that Heaven was up the road a ways. It was the old man’s relationship with his dog that saved him from Hell. John 17:3 echoes this, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” True Heaven comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God was never meant to be a stationary thing. It was meant to move in and through us. It is not “up there” or “over there”. It is right here. Think of it this way, if Heaven is where we go when we die then who/what is our savior? In that case, death becomes our salvation. Yuck! No, Heaven is revealed as we walk with Jesus.
I said before that in modern Christianity, we sell out Jesus to get Heaven. We sell him as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I referenced Satan’s temptation of Christ. Satan was trying to get Jesus to attain Heaven outside the will of His Father. But Jesus doesn’t do anything apart from the Father so Satan was denied.
So what does this have to do with the famous prodigal son?
Well, first, we need to back up and look at all the players in the story. There is a father and two sons. The father owns a large estate with many servants who are well-fed and cared for. While the focus of the story appears to be the younger brother who squanders the family fortune, I believe both sons are in a precarious position. They both exploit their relationship with their father. Pretty bold statement, right? Don’t we always think a little higher of the older brother for sticking around? I used to. Let’s examine a little closer.
The younger son is the one we’re familiar with. He takes his part of the family fortune and runs away. His actions basically say to his father, “I wish you were dead.” This is much like a lot of modern Christianity as I spelled out above. “Let Jesus die so we can have our inheritance.” The younger son wants the benefits of being a son without actually being one. But the older son is not better. He receives his double portion but what does he do? He goes to live with the slaves. He squanders his fortune in a different way. He does it by pretending he doesn’t have one. There are two extremes in Christianity: license and legalism. The brothers play out these extremes to a tee. License gets its inheritance and goes wild. Legalism thinks he has to work for every cent that’s been freely given to him. License doesn’t see the father. Legalism doesn’t see the inheritance. Both lack relationship and communication. It’s all about getting Heaven without relationship.
So why is the younger brother more celebrated then? Because he began to see that it was his relationship with his father that really mattered. As soon as he made this headchange, the father was running to greet him. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Heaven without relationship will only get you so far. If we only strive for the inheritance, we are missing out. We will become strung out, stressed, empty. It is only through a continuous relationship with the father that we are tapped into an endless supply.
I gave a word in church about a month or so ago. It was about the reasons we come to Christ. In earthly relationships, we are often attracted to what the other party can do for us. It’s a sad part of human nature. It doesn’t happen all the time but a lot of the time. It is no different when we come to Christ. We are often first attracted to what He can do for us. A lot of us stop ourselves from going to God because we recognize this in ourselves. A lot of us get in trouble and don’t think we can go to God because the only reason we’re doing so is that we’re in trouble. I believe this is erroneous. Any reason to go to God is a good reason. The key phrase I said in church that day was, “Just come and Jesus will sort it all out later.” The prodigal son in the story just wanted a place to sleep and eat. What a selfish thing! But it is all the father in the story needed to go running to the son.
I’ve talked a lot about Heaven without relationship. That doesn’t mean if you go looking for Heaven then you won’t find Jesus. You will always find Jesus this way. You can’t help but find Jesus this way. You may not want this person named Jesus but you want out of trouble, you want peace, you want stability. Search for those things and you will inevitably end up finding Jesus. Your search for a miracle will ultimately end up at the feet of Jesus.
I haven’t said much about the older brother. I believe there is a similar celebration waiting for him. When the younger brother came back, he wanted to be put with the slaves, where his brother was. They really were brothers, I guess. The father wanted sons, not slaves. The older claims he was never given the chance to celebrate but it was only through his ignorance. The father says, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.” Don’t be this person! If you have put yourself with the slaves, come out of there! Our place is with the Father. Our celebration is ongoing. We can celebrate whenever because everything He has is ours.
Thankfully, our walk with God is not a choice between license and legalism. Both leave us stressed, strung out, and empty. We must transcend this dichotomy. Christ died for our freedom. We are free from sin (license). We are also free from performing for a supposedly disinterested Father (legalism). We are free to pursue Him even as He pursues us. Before Christ, we were powerless to turn to Him. We fell to license or legalism. Now, we are free to be one with Him.