Thursday, October 14, 2010

Theology Thursday: Did the Prodigal Son Repent?

The question I want to present today was inspired by a discussion I’ve been having with a friend recently via an earlier post and deals with the “Parable of the Lost Son” found in Luke 15:11-32.

The question is whether or not the prodigal son was repentant when he went back home to his father?

The story Jesus tells describes how the son had wasted all of his father’s inheritance and because he was broke and starving had resorted to dining with the pigs to survive. Verses 17-20 says this:

When he came to his senses he said,

“How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”

But is the rebellious son actually, sincerely repenting or is this just another one of his schemes fueled by the same greed that got him into the mess he was already in? Why did he go back, because he was truly sorry or because he had squandered all of his resources and found himself at a dead end?

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

LOL. See earlier post and my comments....

JustinGaynor said...

I've been meditating on this for a minute, so I'm gonna rant a bit...I apologize ahead of time if its not as erudite as it could be... I think there are a couple things at play. There's forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation...all mutually exclusive and yet all interconnected components of what we call salvation.

To the parable!

The forgiveness already existed in the Father, it was already there. At what point did it arrive? At what point did his wrath subside and turn into longing? In the parable, we don't know and it doesn't really matter, what we do know is that it was in his nature, we see his view of the situation in his explanation to the elder brother, he was lost, he died...but now he is back, he is alive.

I think, for Jesus, the Son did repent, maybe not for the 'right' reasons at first...whatever that means. But then again I don't think Jesus had this wishy washy concept of repentance seasoned by 500 years of faith vs works polarization. For Jesus, he longed for heaven and earth to be of one accord, faith and works, spirit and body...fully man, fully God...and together they became one flesh, in the image of God, He made them. For Jesus, if your behavior changes then you've acknowledged what you where doing was destructive/counterproductive and that there is a better have acknowledged that and believed there is a better, nay a perfect, alternative.

BTW great article on repentance:


JustinGaynor said...


Whether or not you FELT guilty and sorrowful for what you've done in the past really doesn't matter to the Father. God doesn't want you to feel guilt and sorrow, He, by grace IMHO, even attributes it to ignorance...Father they know not what they do...God having overlooked the times of ignorance says Paul.

Finally, there is reconciliation...not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness is there, it exists in the Father him having already died to the anger he had inside him by seeing his Son lost...dead. When he comes to know His story...wallowing with pigs, starving and humiliated...his ignorance was punishment enough. Having known our struggles and weaknesses he acts now as intercessor, dealing with us compassionately.

Now reconciliation definitely requires repentance, there is a cost to discipleship. Reconciliation is something we must be actively engaged in, we must make conscious choice both to be reconciled and to be agents of reconciliation in the world/house of the Father as we carry the message of reconciliation forth.

I think if we can get away from the websters version of repent and get on with the first century understanding of repent articulated by Josephus in that article linked above, it helps us get back to Jesus and Paul's understanding of what it means to repent and believe...beyond all of our 'emotional' gospel understandings.

All that said, I believe Rollins' point in the retelling of that parable to bring out a significant point...the point that often times we repent because we, in our logic, think returning to God would be better than whatever we have been doing. I have ministered to a lot of substance abusers who have come to follow Jesus initially because they were in the same situation as the prodigal son...they had wasted every good gift God had endowed them with, and were at rock bottom and honestly the message of Jesus sounded great where they stood...Let's face it, when we're in that valley, if someone articulated it well we would have bought into just about anything, the flying spaghetti monster perhaps...that's just where we find ourselves sometimes...a lot of times.

But, and this goes to Rollins' point...once we actually experience the forgiveness and it settles in a bit...once we find ourselves not servants, but Sons...celebrated over and loved...simultaneously called to both humbly rule and progressively serve, both privileged and responsible, beyond what we thought we were worthy of or even capable of...having regained our image bearing status (healed/saved), our rightful place in the order of things, kings and priests over creation working with God and offering up the praises of all to the King of Kings... then what gratitude must flood our life, what Spirit must fill our soul to empower us to walk in the good works the Father has had waiting for us all along.'s better than pig farming and eating scraps.

JustinGaynor said...
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Beautiful Sky Above said...

maybe true repentance, if it comes at all, is brought on by unconditional love and forgivness by the Father, i don't think repentance is neccesary in order to receive this love and forgiveness from the Father, but it would make life a little easier while we are here on this earth

Anonymous said...

Jake - Just curious...Do you feel that repentance requires feeling "sorry"? I dont know that it does. He turned from his lifestyle that had left him lost and hungry and returned to the comfort of the father. He desired to never return to the hungry life again. To me that is repentance, and thus in essence he did repent.

In my past I found myself seeking after God, more because I needed an escape. Not because I truly felt sorry. Either way the turning brought me to Him.

This is why I am so emphatic that he repented. Repentance is brought about by many things. Hunger, cold, and loneliness can be catalysts for repentance.

Jkub said...
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Jkub said...

again, I understand he went back to the father but had his heart changed? i dont think so... he was only interested in being provided for... (if thats repentance then couldnt it be considered a prosperity gospel?) he was willing to say anything to get his father to let him work for him, but of course the father was way more compassionate than he ever would have thought!

also, why did Jesus tell this string of parables in the first place? 15 verse 2... But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." It is because of this attitude that jesus told the parables of the Lost coin... Lost sheep, (Two parables where the owners go looking for that which was lost btw) and then the lost son... If the "other brother" in the parable represents the pharisees, then he would have had no problem with the restoratino of the son if the son had repented... the problem was that he welcomed sinners. the pharisees wanted people to repent and turn from their sins then they could except them... the problem was that Jesus was doing it backwards.