I'm going to make a post now that has nothing to do with my physical training and everything to do with my spirituality.
In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller analyses and discusses the famous parable of The Prodigal Son. In movies like The Wolfman, this parable is used to condemn the father's wayward son. For most Christians, this parable is used to warm hearts as we look at the father's love and grace for his wayward son. Tim Keller points out that if we leave it at that, we're actually missing the entire second half of the story. Ironically, the second half of the story, dealing not with the wayward son come home, but with the obediant older son, appears to be the point Jesus was working towards when he told the parable, as the issues pertaining to the older son address the issues of the crowd he was confronting. Tim Keller suggests that Christians should take a bit more notice of the second half (without forgetting the first half), because we have a tendency to become just like the older brother, who is a personification of the Pharisees that Jesus was busy rebuking.
Cliff's notes of the parable of the prodigal son:
- There is a wealthy man with two sons.
- The younger son requests his share of his father's estate while the father is still living. Surprisingly the father agrees. He divides his estate and gives the younger son his portion.
- The younger son goes far away and squanders his money on reckless living (the word "prodigal" means "recklessly spendthrift"). When he runs out of money he decides to go back home and try to negotiate paying off his debt to his father.
- When the younger son approaches home, the father runs out to greet him, ignores his request to work off his debt, and gives him all-out VIP treatment. The son that was dead to him and his community is back, and he joyfully forgives all debt and hosts a party to celebrate. This is where most people get up to, ignoring the rest of the story.
- The older son refuses to join the party, which is a public protest against his father welcoming back the other son.
- Just as the father came out running to see the younger son, the father comes out to ask the older son to come into the party.
- The older son refuses to come to the party, because he's done everything the father ever asked of him and never got a party, but this other son (who he won't even acknowledge as a brother anymore) gets the finest treatment. Basically, "Boo you, this isn't fair."
- The parable ends inconclusively with the father pleading with the older son to come back.
The following excerpt really stood out to me, and it fleshes out the characteristics of both the older and younger brother.
The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity. The Pharisee's of Jesus's day believed that, while they were a people chosen by God, they could only maintain their place in his blessing and receive final salvation through strict obediance to the Bible. There are innumerable varieties of this paradigm, but they all believe in putting the will of God and the standards of the community ahead of individual fulfillment. In this view, we only attain happiness and a world made right by achieving moral rectitude. We may fall at times, of course, but then we will be judged by how abject and intense our regret is. In this view, even in our failures we must always measure up.
The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery. In ancient patriarchal cultures some took this route, but there are far more who do so today. This paradigm holds that individuals must be free to pursue their own goals and self-actualization regardless of custom and convention. In this view, the world would be a far better place if tradition, prejudice, hierarchical authority, and other barriers to personal freedom were weakened or removed.
These two ways of life (and their inevitable clash) are vividly depicted in the classic movie Witness. In that story, the young Amish widow Rachel falls in love with the decidely non-Amish policeman, John Book. Her father-in-law, Eli, warns her that it is forbidden to do so and the elders could have her punished. He adds that she is acting like a child. "I will be the judge of that," she retorts. "No, they will be the judge of that. And so will I . . . if you shame me," he says, fierce as a prophet. "You shame yourself," Rachel replies, shaken but proud, and turns away from him.
Here we have a precise portrayal of the two ways. The person in the way of moral conformity says: "I'm not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community wants me to do." The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: "I'm the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I'm going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way."
Our Western society is so deeply divided by the two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. The moral conformists say: "The immoral people -- the people who 'do their own thing' -- are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution." The advocates of self-discovery say: "The bigoted people -- the people who say, 'We have the Truth' -- are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution." Each side says: "Our way is the way the world will be put to rights, and if you are not with us, you are against us."
Are we to conclude that everyone falls into one or the other of these two categories? Yes and no. A great number of people have temperaments that predispose them to either a life of moral conformity or of self-discovery. Some, however, go back and forth, trying first one strategy and then the other in different seasons of their lives. Many have tried the moral conformity paradigm, found it crushed them, and in a dramatic turn moved into a life of self-discovery. Others are on the opposite trajectory.
Some people combine both approaches under the roof of the same personality. There are some traditional-looking elder brothers that, as a release valve, maintain a secret life of younger-brother behavior. Police sting operations, designed to catch Internet secual predators who seek out young teens, regularly catch highly religious people in their nets, including many clergy. Then again, there are many people, very liberated and irreligious in their views and lifestyle, who regard religious conservatives with all the self-righteousness and condescension of the worst Pharisee.
Despite these variations, these are still only two primary approaches to living. The message of Jesus's parable is that both of these approaches are wrong. His parable illustrates a radical alternative.