The Prodigal West (Worldview 8)
Permit me to take a Parable right out of its context and use it to illustrate a point. It's the Parable of the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15v11-32. It's one of the most well known Parables of Christ. I'll give you a quick summary.
A man had two sons. The younger son asked for his inheritance, and headed off into another country to waste it all. Eventually, penniless and humiliated, he returned to his father pleading for work. His father, instead, welcomed him back as a son from the dead. The older brother wasn't so happy about it (which is actually the whole point of the Parable, but we aren't going there in this article).
The Inheritance v11-12
Since scripture teaches that we are made in the image of God, giving us worth and value, we are to image God in our lives. God is kind, patient and generous, and since we are made in His image, we ought to reflect His character by being kind, patient and generous too. Whether you are a Christian or a no-god worldview holder, you know that these are honourable moral characteristics. Since everyone is created with intrinsic value, everyone should be treated with dignity and respect; everyone should be treated equally. Christian morality is not abstract or subjective, it is deeply rooted in the character of God. I would argue, and I am most definitely not alone in this, that the the foundation of the West's moral and legal codes comes right out of these Biblical ideas and ideals. This is an argument on 4 points; image of God, law of God in our hearts, the Old Testament read far and wide in the BC era and the New Testament read far and wide in the AD era.
The statement of Genesis 1 that humans are made in the image of God is massive. Back when it was written most societies and cultures taught that royalty were mini gods, thus made in the image of God. The declaration of Genesis 1 is like a metaphysical Robin Hood; it takes image of God and gives it to the poor; we are all made in His image. As I seek to use the Parable to illustrate my point, the Inheritance is the intrinsic value of all humans beings, the law of God written in our hearts and the basic moral code of scripture.
The Prodigal Son
Western society has moved and is moving further away from God and scripture. We have post-modernism and now post-post-modernism. We have nihilism and existentialism. We have materialism and secularism. However, and here is where I try to gently poke an exposed nerve, as we try to live by our moral and legal codes, we cannot help but continue to claim the intrinsic value of all humans and the basic moral codes of scripture. We honestly just can't help ourselves. We are wired to reflect the character of God which means His character is hardwired into our moral framework. The prodigal son had no relationship with the father, but he spent his father's money. The no-god worldviews seek to deny the existence of God, but they need to keep some truths that only make sense in the Christian Worldview. The Prodigal Son, then, in my illustration, is the no-god worldview holder/society.
Let me hammer at this point a little more until I'm sure the nail is firmly in place;
Down, deep at the bottom of it all, no-god worldviews teach that we are potentially meaningless chance-evolved pieces of stardust scraping out a living on a solitary planet with a myriad of other organisms until death. Our brains and bodies, through which we interpret all of life are evolved lumps of specialised meat and therefore, we don't really know if they are truly reliable. None of this is objective, then. No morality, no value, no worth, no meaning - we exist, then we don’t exist. We suffer, then we don’t. If that world is true, I am bound by no moral code to care for the needs of others around me or the generations to come after me or the other organisms I share this planet with. What is important is the short amount of time I have in this world to cram it full of my evolved pleasures and desires until death. If I can get more joy out of a few relationships with others then I’ll care for them too. If I get a feeling of satisfaction out of being generous, then I’ll do that, so long as the reward of the feeling is worth the cost of the altruism. If I want to be remembered by other organisms, I’ll try to accomplish some great heroic feat on behalf of others.
This is what lies at the bottom of the pool of materialism and nihilism. Yet no one truly lives this way. In fact, any one who even attempted to would earn themselves a pretty little straitjacket.
The Other Country
The Prodigal Son took his father's money and headed off into another country to squander it. We have headed off away from God, taking our inheritance with us and seeking to live at ease and pleasure in another country away from Him. We want the pleasures of the world, but without receiving them as the gifts of a good God. We want morality, but we want to adapt it a little bit to suit our scenario, so we will claim morality when we need it, and reject it when we don't. We want intrinsic value, but we don't want a Creator to give it to us and while we claim intrinsic value for most, we may remove it from some if it doesn't fit our narrative.
The Famine and the Pig Slop
A famine hit the country the Prodigal Son was living in. He had spent all his father's money. He ended up looking after pigs and he was so hungry that the slop looked appetising to him. His father was rich and generous, but here he was poor and starving. This is where we are left without our Creator. Nihilism and Materialism leave us in a meaningless world of despair. We are left starving, and the slop of looking for identity and purpose and satisfaction in the world around us makes our stomachs ache while also making us heave. We are left empty and unsatisfied. It leaves us in the terrifying place of not knowing why we believe what we believe and not knowing if what we believe is true with any degree of certainty.
The Generous Father
The Prodigal Son realises his dire situation. He knows he is unworthy to be considered a son of his father. But maybe his father would take him in as a servant and he would at least be clothed, sheltered and fed. He prepares his speech and heads home. His father, far from reluctantly taking him back as a servant or rejecting him altogether, instead runs to his son, embraces him with warmth and love and welcomes him back into the family. He clothes him in the finest, feeds him with the best he has, and throws a celebration that would be talked about for years to come.
Friend, dear no-god worldview holder, don't you see that this is your Creator's heart? Put down your fists, look around you at the slop of despair and come. He is not out to get you. He does not despise you, even though you may despise Him. He waits to restore you back to the person you were always meant to be. He waits to clothe you, feed you, shelter you, embrace you and whisper "home child".
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult and trained for ministry at Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland. Alan ministered in Bethesda as the Associate Pastor until 2019 and now ministers at Union Chapel, Bath. From time to time he teaches at North Cotes (NTM/Ethnos 360) College and The Theological College of North Staffordshire. Alan travels across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the States speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is married to Victoria.