GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 626 • April 4, 2021
PRODIGALS NEED TO LEAVE THE PIGPEN
Poet Robert Frost said, somewhat cynically, “Home is a place where, when you have to go there they have to take you in.” Maybe that was the rule in his home but it is not universally true.
Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us a lot about the promise of God to exiles in Babylon that they would in fact be allowed to go home again to Jerusalem and Judea. It makes me think carefully about the familiar and easily misunderstood parable of the wayward son (the one we call a prodigal) in Luke 15:11-24. Before getting into the message I want to explain the meaning of prodigal. The word does not mean sinner, one who goes astray and does improper things. It means one who wastes or does not use properly what he has or what is available to him. The young man described here “wasted all he had – his life and substance – in riotous living” (the last words of 15:13). Riotous (careless undisciplined and wasteful) not unrighteous living, as his older brother accused. Actually the parable continues after the homecoming of the wayward one by noting the attitude and action of that self-righteous but equally wayward and distant-from-the-father brother of the wayward one. But that is a topic for another time. For now we focus only on the one we call the prodigal.
Readers and commentators (including preachers) generally assume the father of the prodigal represents the Heavenly Father God, and much is made of the fact that he was willing to accept his returning son and restore him to position and privilege in the house and family. – with no questions asked and no repentance or change required, according to some well-known and popular heretics among us. What message does that send to the wayward Christian? What message does it send to the one who is not, has never been, a true child of the Father but wants to be accepted into the family, perhaps be adopted as a child and heir of God? It can be taken to mean that God is always ready, actually eager and willing to run toward the one who is approaching Him, willing to accept anyone who comes to Him, and there will be no penalty or punishment for wayward and improper behavior. It has God saying to the sinners of the world, “I’m ready when you are. Come just as you are” (as the familiar “invitation” song, Just As I Am, puts it). That is not the only picture of God – and not a valid one – given to us by Jesus, or any others, in the New Testament of the Bible.
The facts in the case may not be stipulated or listed straightforwardly and explicitly in the account, but they are plain to see and note. Consider these facts and inferences:
■ The son’s actions and their consequences were his own fault – his choice, at least by default.
■ The father did not send his son away, nor did he approve his actions or his departure. The father was not at fault in any way.
■ The father did not promise the son he would be allowed to return, or that no conditions or restrictions would be imposed in the event he wanted to do so or if he asked to be allowed to do it.
■ The son did not write home asking for help – if he did make such a request it was not answered. He apparently hoped or believed his father would accept him if he asked.
■ The father did nothing to alleviate any of his son’s problems, including deprivation of sustenance. He did not join his son in his degradation – “You’re my son so I’ll stay with you wherever you are.” He did not send anyone to improve the son’s living conditions – even in the pig pen. He did not even advocate removal of any and all pigpens and other “dead ends” to which prodigals may be and often are drawn. He did not even send messengers to the son to tell him how or if he could “come home.” He did not bless his wayward son, did not encourage him to stay as he was, or change, or come home so he could help him heal and recover – nothing like that. No contact at all.
■ Not everyone in the house/home shared the father’s willingness to allow the prodigal’s return.
■ The father wanted the son to return, watched for him – no doubt hoping, perhaps praying, that he would come back from wherever he was and whatever he was doing or had done.
■ No doubt He intended the son to know that he could not be faithful to his father or to God by staying in the pigpen. If he chose to stay there he would lose everything he still had access to.
BUT WHAT IF … What if the prodigal child (we are not thinking here of the outsider to the family but only to a member who leaves the family house and home) – what if YOU – went astray and away, and then …
■ … tried to go home again and found the house gone, or the family had moved away and left no forwarding information, no contact information? It happens, you know.
■ What if you found the house and family were there but the locks were changed, no acknowledgment of you – maybe found you had been disowned – and no admittance when you requested it, and no answers to your comments or questions?
What our Heavenly Father has done and is doing for us prodigals (we are prodigals, you know, every one of us has been an imperfect son or daughter of God, wasting, abusing, misusing or not properly using the resources we have available for living with and for our Lord):
■ He has prepared a way for us to come home to him – forgiveness and cancellation of guilt for our waywardness and our sins.
■ He has sent messengers to tell us how to come back to Him and that we would be welcome if we did so – preachers, teachers, family members, and other servants of Christ and friends of sinners.
■ He has given us assurance in His own inspired words, the scripture which is true, sure, and cannot be broken. ■ He invites but does not force or coerce.
■ He is honest and straightforward about the consequences if we refuse Him – you can take it as a threat or as a negative promise if you care to. Would you rather He be dishonest and hide the results of returning and the consequences of refusing or failing to return?
■ It may be argued that God owes it to His creation to tell them the truth and to give them a real and genuine opportunity for salvation. You may think His love requires it. Actually God has made all such information available, but the messenger may not have delivered it or you neglected to hear and heed it.
■ He does not “owe” you anything except to fulfill His promises, both positive and negative.
■ If you come to Him or come back to Him, you must do it on His terms. He will not allow you to set the terms, He will not compromise with you. He will let you stay where you are if you do not accept His terms, let you stay where you are and suffer the consequences. Eternal unconditional security is only for those who actually get to heaven.
■ He will not join you in the pigpens of the world and he will not make it beneficial for you to stay there.
Here are a few other things you need to know about how to determine your true condition and your options to stay or change it.
■ You can’t worship and serve God and stay in the pig pen.
■ You can’t be removed from the pig pen against your will and without your cooperation. Oh yes, someone can physically remove you but mentally and emotionally you can stay there, no matter where your body is placed. You see, the pigpen is in your mind and not only in your physical and social circumstances.
■ You can leave the pigpen on your own, but the baggage accrued there will go with you – you can’t separate your self from your own history.
■ If you leave the pigpen on God’s terms your history will go with you but the guilt and some consequences of your time there will be forgiven and taken away.
■ Like a pig washed from your personal filth you can return to it – and you probably will if you do not seek, accept, and maintain the cleansing God has given you (2 Peter 2:22).
God will say, “Gerald Cowan (He knows your name too and will address you by name), you are suffering in a pig pen of your own making and choice. When you return to your right mind and decide that you want to be with Me, come to Me. I’ll be waiting to receive you gladly.” That is one lesson to be learned from the experience of the prodigal.
We will talk about the other prodigal, the prodigal brother who stayed home but wasted his resources too, at another time. It’s a sadder story.