Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Prodigal God

I'm currently a little over half-way through the book by Timothy Keller called "The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith" in which Keller gives an eye-opening exegesis of the popular parable of the Prodigal Son. As with any Biblical text that we consider "familiar," we can fall into the trap of believing we already understand the meaning. But Keller challenges the most mature Christian and student of Scripture to look at this text anew.

In the popular "Sunday-school" reading of the parable, the focus falls on the father's love even in the face of the younger son's rebellion. The obvious implications fall on God's freely given grace to sinners as wretched as we are. Personally, this is a text and an application that I can identify very easily with. My laundry list of active rebellion and sin piled high during my teenage years, and when I finally came to sense the depth and riches of God's grace I was truly overwhelmed.

But, for many have spent their entire lives in the church, never acting out in rebellion, the story has more of a distant, philosophical meaning. There's little-to-no personal realization of weighty sin and "total depravity" because those traits have never been evident in the morally strict and righteous members of the church. "Oh, that's so nice of God to save all those really nasty people," they may think.

Keller, however, draws the reader's attention to the elder brother. Having obeyed perfectly and slaved all his life for the father, doesn't he, too, deserve a feast and a fatted calf? The reflections that Keller brings out in the book I won't spoil too much here, but I particularly enjoyed his charge to the morally strict in the Church: why do you do what you do? Is it out of love and adoration for God, or a deep-rooted sense that by following His commands you can in fact control your own life? Jesus' original audience, of course, was the Pharisees gathered around Him, angrily watching as Jesus dared to teach sinners about God.

If you've spent a life of chastity and purity out of devotion to God, I applaud you. But, be warned that there are two kinds of lost people for whom Jesus seeks. The first is obvious, the younger son who rebels. The second, less obvious, is the morally upright who do not fully understand why they obey as they do.

I'll leave you with this story from Elizabeth Elliot: for whom do you carry the stone?

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