The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller
Timothy Keller's book is an examination of
the meaning of the parable in Luke 15, known as the "Prodigal Son." He shows that the parable is really about
two lost sons; one who squanders this wealth in riotous living and
immorality and the other son who remains obedient, dutiful and
respectable. Both sons were lost in their own way. The parable is
more accurately named, "The Two Lost Sons." The parable is also very
much a story about a loving and merciful father. He is the God of
Jesus tells this story in response to Jewish
leaders (Pharisees and teachers of the law) who complained that he was
associating with sinners and immoral people. Jesus is addressing this
audience of people who are self-satisfied about their own relationship
to God and who are quick to condemn others (tax-collectors and other
Jews who did not follow Jewish law).
This book is especially written for church
people and other religious people who think that they have earned
God's favor by what they have done. Keller intends that his book
address both church insiders and church outsiders with the essential
message of the Christian faith.
Jesus challenged the typical ways that
people think about life and religion, sin and salvation. Most people
think and most religions teach that people come to God by way of moral
reformation. The younger brother in the parable represents people who
have thrown off morality. They are the immoral people of the world.
The elder brother represents the way of moral reformation. He obeys
the father and doesn't engage in immoral activities and he expects to
be rewarded and is quick to condemn his younger brother.
The younger brother and the elder brother
represent two ways to find happiness; self-discovery and moral
conformity. The way of self-discovery says, 'I'll decide for myself
what's right for me.' The way of moral conformity says, 'I will find
happiness by doing what is right.' Both sons were lost and estranged
from their father. Both resented the father's authority. The elder
brother represents the person who believes that God owes him because
he follows the rules. This person thinks he had gained leverage with
God because of what he had done. Both brothers were seeking what they
desired and not the father's love. They were both involved in a
project of self salvation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is completely
different. His message is unique among all the religions and
philosophies of the world. His way of salvation is radical and goes
to the root cause of our lost condition, namely, our sin that
separates us from God. It is so radical it is called a new birth and
a new creation.
How does Jesus do this? He does this by
rescuing us. The parable is missing a true elder brother who would go
after the younger brother. The elder brother we need to rescue us is
Jesus Christ. He is the true elder brother who comes from heaven and
is willing to pay an infinite cost for our redemption. It is Jesus'
selfless love that turns us from our rebellion whether it is
self-indulgence or self-righteousness.
The parable does not end with our
salvation. Jesus opens up the theme of our homecoming from exile.
Jesus brings us to our eternal homecoming that will fulfill all our
longings and bring us into the home of our Father.