Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Forgiveness: A Story (Part 1)

A son once disgraced his family. He publicly shamed his father and plundered the family business. He disowned his family and left home, taking the money that had taken two generations to accumulate, years of work by his father and grandfather, blowing it in a year (think Harry and Floyd in Dumb and Dumber if it were R-rated). At the end of the year, he was jobless, homeless and hungry. The economy had soured, and he found in a real financial mess.

Out of options and ideas, he thought about going back home. He considered applying for a job at his dad’s company. Maybe his dad would let him have a minimum-wage job. But at least he’d have benefits. His dad was a good employer. At least there he’d be taken care of. But how could he show his face there? He had spent the profits of the last decade in a single year. He had disowned his family and embarrassed them terribly. He figured he had nothing to lose, and made for home.

When he arrived, his father saw him. If you were the father, what would you do? Could you forgive him? Should you forgive him?

I think this question is at the heart of a lot of human problems. The more generous of us might grant his request and put the son to manual labor. He didn’t even deserve that, but we’re good people. Many wouldn’t even grant him that. He had his chance and he blew it. He made his bed; now let him sleep in it. He wanted to disown the family? Fine. Now let him be an orphan.

But why? Why would we treat him like we do? Because we’re all keeping score. The son has a debt to the family, and it hasn’t been paid. In his case, because of the debt is too large, it could never really be paid. And so we think he should be treated as what he is: a debtor; one who must work for us because he owes us.

But the story doesn’t end like we would end it. The father sees the son coming in to ask for the minimum-wage job. The son begins to ask, but the father cuts him off, hugs him tightly and restores his managerial position as if nothing had happened. He calls all the family friends to tell them that his son returned and invites them all over immediately to celebrate. He exclaims, “My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found!”

 What is the old man thinking? What did he do? And why did he do it? He forgave his son. His property was lost.


  1. What do you think is the motivating factor for the father - his understanding of "debt" (both for himself and his son), or his understanding of human nature?

  2. The son repented: "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son."
    Is this required for our forgiveness?