It’s no use to ask the Prodigal Son just how he ran away. He probably couldn’t tell you how he ended up in the swine world, a sullen existence that stretched as far as he could see.
Life was tough now. He had left home to “find himself” — a mentally ill message the world has always fed its population. He had wandered into the place waving a lot of cash around. Things were great. It was lollapalooza 24/7, rock around the clock and party like 1999.
He took lots of selfies with other prodigals.
He got friended by thousands of people on fb. His instagram account blew off the charts.
Then the market crashed. His house was foreclosed on. The area suffered the worst drought in history.
There was no more cash to wave around. His fellow prodigals vanished.
His was all by himself, no reason to take a selfie anymore.
In trying to find himself, he lost himself, his heart broken into tiny eggshell pieces like Humpty Dumpty, fallen once and for all.
How did he run away? How did he get here?
It just happened. He wasn’t “paying attention” to the real things, to nature, his own human nature, the things of the spirit, and to the signs of beauty and truth.
The Prodigal Son never “ran” away. He shuffled off, away from his Father’s House. He was dazzled by the carnival of entertaining fantasies, the cardboard fronts of exciting desires. The hall of mirrors and pretty lights that covered up the reality of the place where he had drifted off to.
Which was here, the Swine World, so far away from his Father’s House.
So far this is a sad script. Human beings have only one home, one space of the heart that is real. That place is a spiritual place, the Father’s House where there is more than enough bread and wine, more than enough shelter, and best of all, more than enough feeling and knowing that one is home with the Father and given rest.
But human beings, to a man, let their minds wander off like a prodigal, and sooner or later, their bodies also wander out of the House and into the world of crashing markets, droughts and famines, disillusionment, disappointment, broken friendships and despair.
There is a cruel, cruel irony about passions. When any of the passions call — whether greed or gluttony, pride or despair, anger or lust or despair — they advertise with promised comforts. Anger promises revenge. Despair promises a protective shell. Lust promises an easier husk of love. Pride promises self-godhood. Gluttony and greed promise satisfaction and fulfillment.
And the moment a prodigal falls for the advertisement of a passion, an amnesia sets in. The prodigal forgets the way to his Father’s House, which is the way of the heart. He forgets that he belongs to the caring God Whose Name is love.
He forgets that he is human.
He forgets that other people are human, images of the Trinity, and instead calls them blasphemous names, merely functional objects of his own passions. If the passion is anger, then another person is called an enemy. If lust, then just sexual object. If despair, then merely a source of impossible expectations. If pride, then only a convenient underling, an extension of one’s own ego — which has become an entire world that is very sick..
He forgets that his Father cares for him, and God is then seen only as angry and condemning.
He forgets about beauty, truth, goodness and love and the day turns to gray, sunsets become foreboding and night belongs to terror.
He forgets what is real because he is blind to Christ, and instead he willingly believes in the false darkness that rejects the light.
And that is why every prodigal — son or daughter — ends up exchanging their Father’s House and their own noble human nature for the Pig Pen of Life, and a life of falsehood — where the famine-lands call you, instead of the noble name of “human,” merely just an “individual,” or a “consumer,” or a “number,” or a “likely voter,” or a “marketing segment,” or a point in the 68% area in a normal distribution, or a diagnosis, or a predictable opinion-holder in an election survey. Or just a packet of desires that can be manipulated to try anything more transgressive, anything more thrilling, anything more individualistic, just to avoid the knowledge that the Swine World is just that, a cage with a feeding trough, filled with cheap trick grime and the modern mud of despair.
Don’t ask how the Prodigal Son ended up running away and slopping around in the domain of pigs. A sinner falls into sin in a fog of forgetfulness and amnesia. Human beings cannot rationally apostasize from their human nature — the inheritance of the Father. They must become irrational and stultified first. They must forget their Father’s House in order to shuffle off to the Swine World.
So there is no way for him to remember just how he got here.
But he doesn’t need to.
All he has to do is open his eyes, look around at the reality of the Pig Pen of Life, and remember how things were in his Father’s House … how the Bread tasted and how the Wine glowed with sweet light … how the arching roof of the Father’s love gave shelter from the storm of existence … how the pure white robe felt clean and pure, for once, on the heart that had tired so much of the dirty, leaden burden of the passionate world … and how the ring gave shining warmth — of kindred-spirit to a cosmic family — to his right hand.
Remember your true human nature, and Whose you are, and Whose you should be.
No one remembers how they became a prodigal.
But everyone remembers how they came to their senses, dusted themselves off from the grime of the Swine World, and decided to walk in beautiful repentance back to the House of the Father, and go in peace on the journey home, in the way of the heart, fasting, praying, giving alms, reading and thinking about the Word.
Ask any Prodigal about that, and he or she will be glad to tell you, for the memory is clear and bright.
For once, he is dressed and in his right mind, because he’s walking back home.