The Prodigal Son: The Insanity of Sin

One of Jesus’ best-known parables begins this way:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants 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 servants.’” (Luke 15:11-19, NIV)

Even before considering the spiritual lessons of the parable, it’s not hard to see that the younger son’s choice was stupid. He was young and inexperienced. He should have waited for his inheritance to grow. He had no marketable skills to make a living. Yet he left the safety, security, and love of his father’s house to face the world alone.

Of course, none of these considerations were on the young man’s mind. Without pressing the story’s details too much, imagine what he thought his choice would bring. He envisioned freedom: no family, no responsibilities, no chores, no rules; endless resources, endless possibilities. He envisioned happiness: picture him leaving home with bags of cash, wearing fine clothes, a swagger in his step. He envisioned lots of friends: picture him attracting a crowd of hangers-on by throwing parties and buying rounds of drinks. But he was hopelessly short-sighted.

Whatever this young man anticipated, however much he enjoyed that brief season of “wild living,” it all came crashing down. Soon he had no money, no food, and no friends. He was reduced to working among pigs (for a Jewish boy, what could be more humiliating?). He even found himself longing to eat as well as those animals did.

When we choose sin over righteousness, self over God, we are choosing to leave our heavenly Father’s house. When we do, don’t we often have the same delusions as the son in this parable? We envision freedom from moral rules (“No one’s going to tell me what I can and can’t do!”). We envision happiness in seeking selfish pleasure (“This will make me happy! Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”). We envision the comfort and popularity of fitting in with the world around us.

And sometimes, like the prodigal son, it all comes crashing down.

  • When experimentation with drugs or alcohol brings addiction, a damaged career, broken relationships, physical or psychological scars—maybe all of the above.
  • When sexual promiscuity leaves a person emotionally empty, unable to trust, and perhaps facing life-altering physical circumstances.
  • When a man’s lifelong pursuit of bigger paychecks and more distinguished awards gives way to the realization that none of it can make up for the string of broken marriages and bitter children that were the price of his success.
  • When you discover too late that people who you thought loved you for who you are…really loved you only for what you could do for them, and you end up being cast aside like yesterday’s trash.

But even if sin’s consequences are not so obviously dramatic (and often they aren’t), they are no less serious. Outside the Father’s house there is only slavery. “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Satan can take the very things that we think will make us free and turn them into shackles of bondage. That bondage to sin brings death—separation from God (Romans 6:23).

You and I were designed for fellowship with God, created in His image. That is what gives us worth. We are meant to be united with our Father, not estranged from Him. In the parable, the insanity of the young man’s choice to leave home is seen in the statement that he “came to his senses.” Up to that point he had not been acting in his right mind. To leave the Father’s house in rebellion is madness.

But you know what’s even crazier? Staying in the pigpen of sin when we have a loving Father eager for us to return home. When the prodigal son humbled himself, returned to his father’s house, and acknowledged his sin, his father celebrated and showered him with honors. Likewise, God promises that when we turn to Him in repentance, heaven rejoices (Luke 15:7,10) and we find not only forgiveness, but the numberless blessings of fellowship with Him (see Ephesians 2:4-7).

Do you need to come back to God? Whatever is keeping you in the muck of sin—pride, stubbornness, shame, fear—it cannot compare to the love and grace of the Father who is waiting with open arms for you to come home.