News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Three lifestyles and the prodigal son

We live with three Scotties. Each one approaches life with a completely different style. Bernie, who was a service dog for me after my first cancer event, is devoted but often doesn’t pay attention to my directions. Chewy, who is obsessively dependent, is extremely jealous of Bernie. Piper, the female of the pack, always forgives the boys when snapped at; she is the peacemaker.

I’ve recently been reading Timothy Keller’s book, “The Prodigal God.” He is a minister and a New York Times bestselling author. This book has moved near the top of my favorite books list that addresses the teachings of Jesus. Centered on the parable of the prodigal son, Keller examines people’s approaches to life and faith. My three Scotties demonstrate many aspects of those approaches.

The parable opens with a younger son who asks his father to give him his inheritance now so he can live his life as he wished. Then he “goes to another country” and spends all his money, soon becoming destitute, having to work for slave wages. He finally decides to return home and beg his father to let him become a servant in the household where he knows he will at least be well fed. When the father sees the younger son, whom he thought had been lost, approaching on the road, he runs out, embraces him, tells the servants to bring the son the best robe and to kill the fatted calf for a celebration.

When the older brother — who has stayed home and done all the work, always obeying his father — hears about this, he is jealous and furious. When the elder son refuses to attend the celebration, the father comes out to ask the elder son to join them.

The son says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

Keller takes this parable and develops an amazing analysis of three approaches to life and faith.

The younger son wanted freedom from any restraint to do whatever he wanted to do, which ends in his failure to find happiness and success.

Yet, in the end, he realized that he would be better off living with his father’s fair treatment, even as a servant.

The older brother obsessively bound himself to his father’s rules and land, acting like “a good son” so that he could inherit everything.

Yet the elder son’s true feelings for his father were revealed by the return of the younger son.

He was not lovingly devoted to his father; he was just doing what he thought he needed to do to get all the “stuff.”

Many people live like the younger brother, chasing entertainment and possessions in an attempt to find happiness, disregarding faith in a higher being. Most of those people never find the peace they want.

Many of today’s religious Christians act like the older brother and the Pharisees of old, following all the rules set by their churches, participating in ceremonies, and reciting memorized prayers in an attempt to earn salvation. They believe that what they do, not how they really feel, will be their salvation. When shown that Jesus’s teachings were about one’s inner life and learning how to truly love God and all his children as equals, no matter their errors, many of these people scoff, looking down on those who do not “follow the rules.”

Keller goes into great depth showing how the older brother’s lack of love made him as “lost to the father” as the younger brother was. The father, of course, represents our loving Creator who forgives all sins as soon as one opens his heart to love of God and all His children, the central teaching of Jesus.

All the great religions of the world teach love as a central theme. Jesus went further. He promised us that when we chose a third way of living and learned to love God and forgive all humans, regardless of their faith or actions, we would find salvation. Then our divine spirits would return to our loving Creator when we passed from this earth. Meanwhile, once we discovered love of God and all our “brothers,” our lives would be transformed. We would be “given our daily bread,” meaning our lives would be filled with all we need for peace and joy, and our hearts would be at peace until our passing.

Jesus never said that you wouldn’t find salvation unless you attended a church or took communion every month. Those rules came into His spiritual faith when Christianity became a religion, under Constantine. When Constantine adopted Christianity, he and his ruling class modified a simple spiritual faith into a religion that offered salvation as a reward in exchange for “good behavior.” This enriched the church and gave the established government greater top-down control of the people. Most of today’s established churches still have a lot of those trappings in their doctrine.

Keller shows how Jesus offers another kind of church, one that goes back to simple faith-based spirituality. He finds that many of today’s “younger brothers” who gave up religious Christianity as adults due to too many “elder brother” styles in past churches, have joined Keller’s uncluttered, spiritually based church, finding great joy, peace, and love.

Read Keller’s book if you want to rediscover the heart of Jesus’s teachings.

And He said to him, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

— Matthew 22:37, NASB


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