I went to my church’s Bible study group tonight, and we’re continuing our way through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which is about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Over the past couple of sessions, I’ve found that I sympathize with both sons. The younger son was probably tired of working on his father’s land day after day, and he wanted to go out and try something new, to sow his wild oats, if you will. The elder son, by contrast, stayed behind and helped his father, and he was resentful that his younger son returned and got a party thrown for him, whereas the elder son never got a party for all his years of service. I can identify with both perspectives.
Tim Keller’s argument has been that both sons wanted their father’s things, but not their father, and the parallel he draws with the spiritual life is that we should not serve God to get stuff, but rather to be more like God and to delight in him. But I asked if even the younger son lacked self-interest when he decided to return to his father. I do not think that he did, for he was tired of eating pigs’ food and concluded that things weren’t that bad with his father, who fed his workers. I can understand the view that life will not necessarily go the way that we desire, and so we should not expect God to pay us for our service to him, but instead we should take comfort in God’s love for us, regardless of what is going on in our lives. But I still think it’s important to note that the son did conclude that things weren’t that bad with his father, who at least fed his workers. There is hopefully some blessing that comes from serving God.
Also, maybe the younger son came to value his father more (rather than his father’s things) when his father demonstrated a profound depth of love and welcomed the younger son back into the family. I can sympathize with a point that Tim Keller frequently makes: that we love God because of his love for us, which he demonstrated through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Another thought that came up in the study was the issue of selfishness. The younger son primarily cared about himself and his own pleasure, and he did not care for his responsibilities to his father to work the land. Rather, he left that to his elder brother. Someone in the group said that a sign of maturity is when things are not just about “me, me, me”, but we consider other people and accept responsibility for our own actions. I agree with that. At the same time, I can understand the younger son’s desire for some pleasure, for you know what people say about all work and no play. And yet, perhaps he could have enjoyed himself in the company of his family.
One lady was telling a story about when she was younger and challenged her father on his refusal to attend church, even though he made sure that his daughters went to church. She said that her father replied that he had more spirituality in his little finger than many people sitting in the pews. I was not entirely sure where she was going with the story. She admitted that she did not handle that situation all that well when she was younger. She also said that she would only go to a church where she walked out of the service feeling happy, so perhaps her point was that she should not have judged her father for not going to church, a place where he was unhappy. We were also talking about hypocrisy in the church, so her story may have related to that, for her father’s point was that not everyone in church was spiritual. I appreciated her story, even though I do not know where she was going with it.