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The Prodigal Son Metaphysically Interpreted

Biblical Favorites by Jim Lewis


Return of the Prodigal Son—Rembrandt
Return of the Prodigal Son—Rembrandt

The Prodigal Son is often called the Lost Son. This could also be a parable called The Prodigal Daughter. The Father in the parable could be a mother. But the meaning would be the same.

We know that the father was well-to-do because he had servants. According to Deut. 21:17 the son’s inheritance would be one third of his father’s possessions. Usually the son would not receive the inheritance until the father’s death, but there were exceptions. However, when the son received the inheritance while the father was still living, he forfeited any further right or claim to any of the father’s estate.

In this parable we are told that the son accepted his inheritance and decided within a few days that he would leave home and go into one of the surrounding rich kingdoms and really begin to live. Now that he was rich he could do some things that he had only been able to dream about before. Now he could indulge himself in sensory pleasure and pursuits and find what he thought would be independence, success, and joyous living.

So he pulled up stakes and left home. But some things happened that changed his plans and his life. He did live it up for awhile but his funds ran out. He was broke and dejected. On top of all that, a famine came upon the land and he found it difficult to make a living. The best job he could get was as a swineherd. What a demoralizing job for a Jew. He was so broke that he did not have much money to buy food and ate the pods of the carob tree which were used for feeding the pigs. It would seem that this is something like a person today eating dry dog food.

After suffering like this for a time he got what he thought was a good idea. In thinking about his home he knew that his father had hired servants who were better off than he was. So he thought he would go home and ask his father if he would hire him as a servant. The son assumed that his father would probably not want him back as a son. He therefore returned to his father’s house and received the surprise of his life. His father came out to meet him; he hugged and kissed him and gave him a royal welcome. The father suggested making a feast. He ordered the other servants to bring new clothes, he put a ring on his son’s finger, and put new sandals on his feet. The father was happy that his son had returned, saying, “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24)

Parables usually have one basic meaning. However, in this case there are a number of points that we can derive from it that are greatly helpful. The basic theme is that no matter how we mess up our lives, God always welcomes us back in love. Even if we have seemingly wasted our lives, our money, our talent, and our abilities. Even if we have gone off in the pursuit of easy pleasures.

When we examine the father’s attitudes we find that he did not say to his son, “Son, you cannot take this money and go off and spend it foolishly.” The father let the son go. He probably knew what would happen but he did not forbid him. The father did not tell the son to wait until he had died before the son could have the inheritance — he could have it now. He gave the son complete and total freedom.

In this case the son deliberately and consciously made some foolish decisions and choices. After he found himself in dire straits he could have blamed God for what happened to him, especially because of the famine. He could have said, “God, why did you have to bring this famine? Things were bad enough as they were.” It is quite interesting that so-called educated and intelligent people can often make some profoundly uninformed statements. Just recently I was watching a news report on the earthquake that took place in Colinga, California. The reporter showed some small children sitting outside their demolished home and she said, “I suppose these children are wondering why God decided to destroy their home and their town.” It seems that what we do not understand we blame on God. The truth is, God does not cause earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other phenomena. These are sometimes referred to as “natural” disasters. But there is nothing natural about them. There is a relationship between the phenomena and the people involved in them. We might ask the question, “Why was the Prodigal Son at the place where the famine occurred?” He was there because of his thought, his desires, and the action he took. He was there because of the decisions he made. If he had thought differently about himself, about happiness, and success, he could have been somewhere else. God did not cause the famine to punish him for wasting his money. If we always followed the guidance of God, we too would be in our right place. If something happened of a negative nature we would be protected. We certainly would not be in the challenging situations in which we sometimes find ourselves. Whether we are adults or children we are where we are, experiencing what we experience because of past decisions we have made and things we have done, and things we have believed. Not only the past of this life, but the accumulative past of many lifetimes. God does not create new souls every time a child is born. The soul existed before it came into the body. In fact it is soul-choice that determines what family we will be born into, what genes and chromosomes and other necessities will be selected from the bodies of those helping us get another body. The soul always chooses the environment and circumstances that will promote its greatest growth. On the conscious level the individual might choose quite differently. Soul-growth and development are the only things that will bring the happiness and the feeling of success that we are seeking. Some spend many years following their delusions and I might add many of these are metaphysical delusions. The individual discovers the truth teaching and then uses this knowledge to indulge in the things of the world, whereas he or she should be using it for the growth and development of their soul.

When we consider the attitude of the son we find that he had some misconceptions that we usually entertain about God. The son just assumed that his father would be angry with him and would not accept him back in the home. Many of us have this same type of attitude toward God. We think that God gets angry and upset and will not accept us unless we do some degrading thing. The son.thought his inheritance was gone. Many have this attitude about their supply, not realizing that God’s substance is unlimited. It is never depleted no matter how much we may waste it in riotous living. The son felt guilty and unworthy as we often do when we go into a far country, when we get involved in human consciousness. In this state of mind we do not think as God thinks about us; we think the way we might humanly respond. The son really did not know what his father’s reaction to him would be but he was desperate enough to chance finding out. If he had failed to act on this decision he would have missed out on something great.

The son had to come back through the same free choice he expressed when he left. He had to realize that he could never get anywhere in life without his father. We cannot get anywhere with our lives without God. God is the Source of all that we need. We too want a new relationship with our indwelling Father or Lord. Many are reluctant to turn to God in their time of need, but they do not have to be reluctant.

What a pleasant surprise it was when the son did return and discovered that the misconceptions he had about his father were not true. One day many will have that same surprise. They will discover that the misconceptions they have about God are not true. There is no hell where they will be punished for eternity. There is no need for penance. There is no pointing of fingers, rebuking, condemning, chastising. The father in this parable ran to meet his son and hugged and kissed him. When we turn to God we find the same welcome in the form of peace and relief. The son must have said to himself, “I do not have to feel guilty, for my father does not hold anything against me.” We can say the same thing in our relationship with God. His father was more interested in restoring than in rebuking. The same holds true for us. God is more interested in restoring us.

We can always begin again, no matter how we feel about what we have done or have not done with our lives. Other humans may think we are hopeless, helpless, or too far gone, but not God. The hardships brought the son to the place where he could sincerely make a change. This was no simple, easy change to make. He had to be sincere. He did not have any assurances about anything when he made that decision to return. As far as his thought was concerned his father might tell him to go fly a kite. But he was willing to be a servant of his father. He was willing to do whatever the father asked or demanded.

What did the father want the son to do? He wanted him to begin acting like a son and cease thinking in terms of a hired servant. That is what God wants us to do: He wants us to act like a son. He also wants us to think like a son or daughter. A true son never thinks of his inheritance as running out. As Jesus told us about His relationship with God, “All that the Father has is mine.” The ring on the son was a symbol of authority. The son has the authority of the Father. One day we will know this more fully. Jesus said, “All authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” We are only now beginning to grasp the idea of “sonship” and all that it entails. It is a powerful realization to come to when we know as did Jesus, “I am the son of God.”

It may be challenging to return to the Father’s house but when we do make the decision to return we too will be in for some great surprises as the Prodigal Son was surprised when he went home.

© 1985, Jim Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.