The Prodigal Son, Part I: The Why
Luke 15:13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
I have a habit of inserting myself into a story to understand the characters. I sympathize with, or at least understand the younger son in the story named after him. In Jesus’ prodigal parable, a man had two sons, the younger of which developed wanderlust and in his impatience for the good life, asked his father for his share of the inheritance. Once he had it, he took off for an exotic, far-off land and got high on the good life. He squandered his property in reckless living.
I imagine his father and brother wanted to know why. Why would he take his money and run away to waste it? In the worst of my destruction, this is what those closest to me wanted to know. Why would you do such a thing? Knowing the consequences, how could you choose to do this? Did you think of only yourself?
There is of course, no answer that satisfies because the only answer is as miserable as it is true. We engage in destructive behavior, at least initially, because we want to. The destructive deeds of our flesh, which are different for all of us, bring some instant gratification. Make no mistake, we do these things because they bring us pleasure.
We seek joy in money, sex, alcohol, anger, food, possessions or beauty because these things absolutely do deliver some pleasure. At least they do for a time. The problem with the instant gratification of our flesh nature, is that it always requires payment later. Like the hangover after a night of drinking, cheap thrills deliver pleasure, but in the end, require a debt to be paid.
That payment often involves slavery to that thing. When we engage in a behavior over and over, repeatedly finding gratification in it, it becomes habitual. Psychological dependence develops and soon, we cannot stop, even if we want. Chemicals have the additional effect of inducing physical dependence, deepening the addiction.
Neither the prodigal son nor I were unaware of the consequences of our behavior. He knew that the party would end when the money ran out. He just could not stop once he was enslaved. This is the essence of addiction, repeatedly engaging in destructive behavior despite knowing the inevitable consequences.
We start out pursuing something because it brings us pleasure and in the end, that thing owns and controls us. These behaviors are, by definition, pathologic when we do them again and again to our own destruction. Those around us do not understand why we would do such a thing. We ourselves do not understand our own disease, except to say that we just cannot not stop.
Does this mean that we can find no pleasure in this life without destruction? No, there is of course, a right and wrong way to pursue pleasure. I can pursue it through instant gratification with destructive payment later, or I can choose discipline now, reaping the joy of living right later. Only in following God do I find ultimate joy and peace. Pursuing me always brings pleasure now with pain later.
The Seeds of the Spirit is a daily blog based on a walk through the New Testament. Written from the perspective of my own addiction, it explores the common defects of our flesh nature and the solution, our spirit life. If you find it helpful, sign up for the blog as a daily email, tell your friends and like/share it on Facebook.