In the book of Luke, chapter 15, Jesus shares the story of a “prodigal son”; the story of a man who went to his father and asked for his inheritance early and then proceeded to squander it. Most of the time when I hear that story being told it is referenced as a way to explain the grace of God. His willingness to forgive our foolish choices and welcome us back into the fold with loving arms.
One of the things that bugs me about this lesson though is how often I have seen it taught with a condescending “don’t be like this horrible person” kind of tone.
“See this guy? What a selfish jerk.” is the way I often I hear it being explained, not in those words of course, but the sentiment is clearly communicated. Which I find ironic because I see a lesson being shared on the idea of grace, without actually offering grace to the listener. Instead the parable is reduced to a cautionary tale of extravagant living.
Let me offer a different approach to this story. WE ARE ALL PRODIGALS. Each one of us. And this tale is not about needing forgiveness IF we make poor choices but rather WHEN we make poor choices. No person is ever going to get through life without making sinful choices; it just isn’t going to happen. Of course in an ideal world we should be making less of those choices as we grow and mature, but nobody is perfect.
For many people who read this, that concept is going to come as a no brainer. “Of course nobody is perfect.” We think to ourselves. But the danger in not really embracing that reality is that sin often gets graded on a scale. “I am not perfect but at least I am not as bad as that person.” And we forget that God’s standard is perfection. No, you may not have done some of the things that we see on the 5:30 news but you have done something that goes against the teachings of Jesus. And as far as God is concerned, sin is sin. Even if you did do something bad that ended up on the 5:30 news, this doesn’t change anything.
The good news is that the Bible says that, “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21. If you confess that you need God’s grace to cover your sins and rely on Jesus as your means of salvation turning your will and your life over to Him you will be saved. And that is exactly why as a people we need to remember that we are all prodigals. We have all lived at least a portion of our lives with some sort of lavishness not taking our salvation as seriously as we should.
My goal here is not to give you one more reason to think that you suck. In fact that is the exact opposite of what I want to convey with this post. I want you to feel good about the fact that you are normal! As someone who struggles with my mental health I am constantly barraged with thoughts that tell me I am not good enough, I am a screw up, I am not worthy to be loved, I can never get it right so I probably should just quit, and the list goes on and on. That somehow I am the one person who is not good enough to deserve God’s grace and His love. This simply isn’t true though!
Every person starts on the same level. EVERY. PERSON. This is a freeing thing because that also means every person is in the same category of needing grace. And if God is going to make His grace available to some He must make it available to all. That is the definition of grace, unmerited favor, you and I can’t, by definition, be good enough to deserve it.
So if you are reading this and thinking that you are somehow not loved by God. Yes you are.
If you think that you cannot be used by God to do good things. You are.
If you think that your life can never be more than a good example of a bad example. God says you are so much more.
If you feel like you are worthless, ugly, shameful, and a mistake God says you are His child and there are extraordinary things that He has planned for you.
If you are tired, lonely, scared, beaten up and brought down…then know that God is here to give you rest and to hold you up when you don’t have the strength to stand.
Where the world says you are undeserving God says you are chosen.
The identity of the Prodigal Son was not in his lavishness and his mistakes. His identity came in who the father says he is. So live life knowing what your identity is, where it comes from. This parable isn’t about condemning the son, it is about rejoicing in the Father.
God loves you and says you are worthy to be loved. Never forget that.
National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery