The Return of the Prodigal Runner

Meditations in Motion

I ran a 5k road race with my husband Bill last weekend. It was a lot of fun. There were two longer race distances that accompanied the 5k and some bike races, too. After the race there was a party featuring Turkey Hill ice cream and drinks, children’s games, a giant cow, and the Phillie Phanatic (that guy is busy!) It was a perfect way to spend a beautiful spring morning.

Meditations in Motion

Whenever I do a road 5k, I always feel as though I am getting back to my roots. Like most runners, my first races were all road 5ks, and I have never lost my affection for them. I do mostly trail races now. I love trail races for many reasons – the lack of time expectations on my part, the laid-back atmosphere, the challenge of concentrating on every footfall for hours, and the bonanza of food (and sometimes even adult beverages) served both during and after many trail races.

When I return to road 5ks, I feel like the prodigal daughter coming home.

Meditations in Motion

I just read a book entitled Love Wins by Rob Bell. It is an interesting book, which generated a lot of controversy when it was first published in 2011. I wish I had bought a paper version of the book. I like to dog-ear pages, make notes in the margins and highlight sections to think about later.

I bought it on an e-reader so that I could take it along  on my trip to Colorado and load other books if I finished Love Wins, but that never happened. I didn’t finish the book; I spent all of my waking hours playing with my grandson, then fell into bed, exhausted from following a toddler’s exuberant schedule.

Meditations in Motion

The premise of the book is this: Christianity is supposed to be a loving, inclusive, redemptive religion. That is Christ’s message. Why then do we (as Christians) support and disseminate a message that condemns all but a select few followers to eternal damnation and torment? (And each group of followers believes that they are the sole inheritors of heaven.)

Bell cites several passages from the Bible which state that God desires all people be saved. One of the most compelling is 1 Timothy 2 “God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He asks a very good question:”Does God get what he wants?”

Yes, we have the freedom that accompanies love. We have free will, but God is all-powerful and all-knowing.

Meditations in Motion

Bell’s exposition of the story of the prodigal son is a good one, and easy to follow. This parable describes a father’s responses to his two sons. The younger son asks his father for his inheritance early, then squanders it. The elder son remained steadfastly working for his father.

When the younger son fearfully returns home with his tail between his legs, worried that his father will chastise him, he is surprised when his father throws a lavish party to celebrate his return. The father’s irrepressible generosity apparently knows no bounds.

The older son is resentful and refuses to participate in the party. He believes that because he was a good and faithful worker for his father, his father owes him. The father, trying to cajole him to join the party, lovingly tells him “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

In this story, the father stands for the Father. Bell explains that in this parable, Jesus is telling us that there is nothing we can do to earn the Father’s love. It cannot be earned and it cannot be taken away.

True, the younger son’s choice of lifestyle led him away from his family and caused him shame and heartache. When he chose to come home, however, his father welcomed him joyously, with open arms.

The older brother’s resentment and bitterness are caused by his assumption that his father loved him for his obedience and hard work. This expectation also caused separation from his father, maybe of a more serious nature than the younger son’s separation. At the end of the parable, the elder son does not come to the party, even though he is enjoined by his father.

I can put myself in the place of each son – coming home sheepishly after displeasing my parents (I am a youngest daughter) and locked in a dungeon of self-righteous resentment, refusing to come to the party. I have also been a forgiving parent. There is nothing my children could do that would make me stop loving them. They do not have to earn my love. The emotions in this story are easy to imagine, easy to identify with. They deal with honest, true human responses.

Bell states that there is nothing left for both sons to do but “trust”, and cites Philippians 3 “Let us live up to what we have already attained.” God’s love is ours. We cannot do anything to make Him take that love away, and there is nothing we have to do in order to earn it. This is a story of reconciliation and redemption.

I have to agree with most of the reviewers who gave the book mixed reviews. Some parts of the book, like the ones I described earlier, were very good; in some parts Bell’s logic and/or theology seemed questionable. I read one review that attached the label of “Christianity-lite” to the work, a good introduction to the religion, but not one with a lot of intellectual heavy lifting. One part of the book that I did not like were the final pages, where Bell seemed to lose his nerve, sensing the coming firestorm of criticism, and contradicted the message that he had been giving throughout the rest of the book. If you haven’t read it yet, however, it’s worth the read.

Meditations in Motion

The parable of the prodigal son was always one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because I like to think that God wants us to enjoy life, and would understand and forgive our distraction with life’s pleasures. The prodigal son’s distractions were fast women and dissolute living. Mine tend to run more to dirt single track, gnarly roots, boulder scrambles and intimidating elevation charts. To each his (or her) own. What are yours?

 

I am linking up with Jamie Sumner for Sunday Thoughts. Visit here for faith-based posts from many other bloggers. I am also linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well. If you like this post, you may want to visit to read what other bloggers have to say!

live life wellSunday thoughts

I am linking up with Debbie at Dare 2 Hear. Check out the inspirational posts on her Tune in Thursdays. I am also linking up with Amanda at Running With Spoons for her Thinking Out Loud Thursdays.

Tune in Thursday   Thinking Out Loud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 comments

  1. This is one of my favorite parables as well, particularly as my mother could never explain it to me satisfactorily when I was a kid, and always looked a little uncomfortable when it came up. For a tween, the idea that the father (Father) loves you no matter what is deliciously subversive. Seems to me it would relieve some of the negative pressure of our older kids if we’d drum this message into them a bit more often. Note, however, that Dad doesn’t go slaying fatted calves while his wayward boy is still off the farm carousing — the celebration happens when the son returns to the fold, and to his senses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to be more like the older brother – questioning life’s fairness.

    While a 5K was my first race, I’m not a fan of the distance. Its too far to have to travel that fast. 15K to half marathon distances are my favorite. But you’re right, its like going back to my roots.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Laurie … I love that you run with your husband. I love that there’s Turkey Hill ice cream after {mint chocolate chip?} And I appreciate your thoughts on the prodigal son … and Rob Bell’s book which I read after he wrote it.

    So much food for thought today … please know I’ll be back …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda. Unfortunately, no mint chocolate chip. Running with my husband has been one of the best things we ever did together (other than the 3 kids, of course!) 🙂

      Like

  4. The churches I have belonged to recently are on the liberal end of the Episcopalian spectrum, and do preach (literally and figuratively) an inclusive message that doesn’t condemn those of different faiths — or no faith. I think being a parent makes a lot of Bible stories more understandable, like the concepts of loving someone no matter what!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a very interesting post. I have not read Rob Bell’s book, but I am not a fan of his theology. I think his belief that “love wins” and everyone will go to heaven in the end do not line up with what Jesus taught – that he is the only Way to God: “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6). In the parable of the prodigal son, the reason that the father welcomes him and throws a party is because HE CAME BACK. God does not throw parties for people who do not come back to him. If a person lives their entire life in rebellion against Him (living for themselves and paying no attention to what God says about anything), there will be no forgiveness because none was ever asked for.

    The other major thing that troubles me about Bell’s perspective is that it makes light of Christ’s sacrifice. If sin is not a serious thing, if it could be dealt with in a multitude of ways, through a multitude of religions, then why did Jesus submit himself to dying on a cross to pay for it? Surely if there was another way, he would not have gone through with it? Indeed, he prays in the garden before he goes to the cross: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39). The fact that he then goes on to the cross indicates that it was not possible for the metaphorical “cup” to pass from him – this was THE ONLY WAY that the problem of sin could be dealt with and mankind reconciled back to God.

    I am saddened that “Love Wins” has been a book that has really muddied the waters as to what Christianity is truly about. It is sold under the label of “Christian”, but in my opinion, diverts so drastically from the message of the gospel as recorded in the Bible that it cannot be called Christian at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Such a great post! I always remember thinking it was so unfair as a child. I was the more well behaved child and my sister was more the rebellious/hard to deal with, one. But my mother still seemed to favor her.

    Now that I am older and think of it as My Father forgiving my sins, well….lets just say I look at it a little differently! LOL.

    Great post, Laurie!

    Thanks for linking up @LiveLifeWell!

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always love reading your perspective and insight tied into lessons drawn from your passion of running. I’ve never read this book or heard of the author. I do like this take on the prodigal son. This is a story that I’ve heard so many times, but like many of the stories that become so familiar to us, we don’t always realize the great wonder of them. I tend to lean on the side of the older brother. Wanting fairness. Trying to always do what’s right. The problem with living life that way is it’s very self focused instead of Christ focused. The truth is we all need him to forgive us and take us back when we turn away from sin. Then we need to do that again day after day…rely on God and not on ourselves. Look at His Love and Grace and not our own self sufficiency. Thank you for this and for sharing with us at #LiveLifeWell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your very insightful comment on the parable! As a kid, I was always disappointed at the seeming lack of justice. As a parent, my perspective changed. You are right – everyone needs forgiveness at some point(s) in their life.

      Liked by 1 person

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