As I prepare to teach the famous “prodigal son” parable from the Bible for the church I serve, I’m struck once again by how the notion of “salvation” became shrouded in a fog of church mystery and internal debates among theologians around atonement theory, and what constitutes the 'preconditions' for receiving ‘the gift of salvation’ (“preconditions“ and “gift” seem incompatible to me, but I digress). The effect of this is that our world often views the church as swimming around in a meaningless eddy, biting at each other regarding its own debates while the rest of the world carries on with its search for meaning, or its denial that meaning is even available. Most people seem to acknowledge that the world isn't working well at alls these days because both objective statistics about well being and our own subjective sense of things all cry "broken". And yet, the same masses are convinced that we’ve nothing to say that would be helpful.
The parable of the prodigal offers the way forward because it lays all the internal debates with fancy titles like "penal substitution" and "Christ's victor" aside. Instead, it declares that all our Creator has ever wanted was for us to come home and dwell in the infinite ocean of God’s love. You don’t need to understand atonement theory to come home. You don’t need to be a republican or democrat or American, or black, or white, or literate. You don’t need to pre-emptively agree with some list of proscribed behaviors (the lists which "the church" have created through two millennia are constantly changing anyway, according to century and geography, so we're forced to ask "which list"?)
Please don’t misread. Following coming home to Creator’s love will change the way you think and act. It will change your relationships with your time, money, neighbors, and family. It will altar your ethical construct, and may even change the way you vote. But those changes are byproducts of your transformation, not preconditions for your salvation.
The only thing one needs In order to be saved, is to come home.
This entails an acknowledgement that the life I’ve tried to live as captain of my own ship isn’t working well. The rudder’s broken, the storms are battering, and the engine has died. I need to go home. I thought I could pull it off alone, but I can’t. I need to be home.
Coming home to Creator, I find this irrevocable, unconditional, infinite love. My creator is delighted I’m back. That’s all God ever wanted, and the feast speaks volumes. There’s no finger wagging or lectures, no contract and conditions - just pure delight that I’m home, and not just home, but home because I WANT to be home. It’s not that I just want my problems solved, though I do; it’s that I‘ve finally discovered where I’m meant to be. At home. At rest. Basking in the love of my creator.
This love is safe.
This love is healing.
This love is transformative.
This love is the life for which I’m created.
Here’s how one favorite author says it:
the way out of sin is to see through the falsehood, to be really convinced that someone else is sustaining you, that you don't have to sustain yourself, that you are already given more affirmation, nurturance, respect, love, life, joy than you can even imagine desiring.
It is at the moment when you perceive this truth and really accept it, believe yourself to be loved—permit, agree, allow, consent to be loved and sustained by another—it is at this moment that salvation takes place. - Beatrice Bruteau
My hope is that the church can learn to behave more like the Father, and less like the older brother in the story, that a world full of hurting people might know our deep love for every person, and that we will, as this song below says so beautifully… May we always leave the light on