If you’re lost and wrecked again.

Rembrandt’s famous painting of the Prodigal Son illustrates the joy of returning to God and finding that He truly is faithful to forgive our sins – yet again.

The Prodigal Son c. 1669 Rembrandt van Rijn

The story of the prodigal son seems to be directed not at the first-time repenter who is turning to Christ for initial forgiveness, but rather toward we who, though already in the Father’s house, are still “prone to wander…prone to leave the God I love,” as the old hymn goes.  It speaks to those who already know the Father but have walked away from Him – again – for a time.  And this is all of us who are Christians; we all rebel and sin, but the story of the Prodigal Son gives us to know that no matter how far we have wandered, the Father will still be merciful when we return to Him.

It’s easy to look at the story of the Prodigal Son from the vantage point of the happy ending, but what we may forget is that there was also this part of the story, the part when the son was still lost and wandering in rebellion, wrecked by sin and knowing that he should return to the Father but not yet having made the hard decision to leave the pigs:

The Prodigal Son 1872 by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

After turning away from God to pursue some particular sin, there is always a moment when the sinner realizes his pursuit of what had seemed so tantalizing has landed him in a pigsty.  That is the worst moment, in my experience, because you feel utterly lost, permanently separated, and hopelessly mired down.  How can you ever go back when you’ve thrown away the riches you had?  Better just to sit here in the mud, which is all I deserve!  But:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

It is so hard in that moment to see that we are free to stand up and leave the pigsty; we really believe the illusion that we are chained there, but as the painting depicts, nothing is truly holding us back, other than a deep sense of shame at having walked away from the Father and having disappointed our family.  It is with hesitation and fear of rejection, as I know full well and perhaps you do too, that the prodigal approaches the Father again, head bowed with shame and regret, but how indescribable is the joyful relief when we find that He is actually celebrating our return!

Those who are still in the Father’s house when the prodigals – who we all will be at some point or another – return need to accept them with joy, not with bitterness and unforgiveness.  Hallelujah, what was lost is now found again!  This may be particularly hard if the prodigal son’s actions affected you personally, as they did the older brother in the story, but the Father tells us to forgive and come celebrate anyway.  The World, of course, cannot understand this kind of forgiveness and will mock us, but that is because Satan, the god of this Worldalways condemns, whereas Christ always forgives.  When you are yet in the Father’s house, you will need to decide whether you will be the bride of Christ or of Satan and then follow your spiritual husband’s lead.

To those who are in the pigsty – come home!

To those who are home – run out to greet them with joy and celebration!

Lift your head weary sinner, the river’s just ahead
Down the path of forgiveness, salvation’s waiting there
You built a mighty fortress 10,000 burdens high
Love is here to lift you up, here to lift you high

If you’re lost and wandering
Come stumbling in like a prodigal child
See the walls start crumbling
Let the gates of glory open wide

All who’ve strayed and walked away, unspeakable things you’ve done
Fix your eyes on the mountain, let the past be dead and gone
Come all saints and sinners, you can’t outrun God
Whatever you’ve done can’t overcome the power of the blood

If you’re lost and wandering
Come stumbling in like a prodigal child
See the walls start crumbling
Let the gates of glory open wide

If you’re lost and wrecked again
Come stumbling in like a prodigal child
See the walls start crumbling
Let the gates of glory be open wide