Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Prodigal Son in the Entitlement Era


This parable is one of the most well-known of those told by Christ.  The parable is about two sons relationships with their father.  The younger son decides to take his inheritance early, disgracing the family.  He squanders the money and ends up tending pigs.  As he can go no lower, he decides to seek after his father’s forgiveness.  As the son has turned back to the father, the father removes his shoes and runs to greet his son that has returned home.  The son offers to do works for the father, but the father lets him know that there are no works needed, all he had to do was come home.   The father puts a ring on his finger and robe on him.  He has the finest calf slaughtered for a banquet to celebrate that the son has returned home to the father.   Now this parable is actually more about the obedient son’s response to the father than the rebellious sons, but that isn’t the point of this article.   Rather, I am postulating on what might the younger sons response have been after he squandered his inheritance had he lived in an entitlement or safety-net society. 
Suppose this happened today.  The son is penniless, perhaps he impregnated a girl, or fell into drugs.  Maybe he invested the money in day trading and lost it all.  In today’s society of entitlements and bailouts and safety-nets, what would compel a son to return to his father.  The answer is very little.  Because the individual has a diminished impact on the consequences of their decisions, they are able to eek out an existence through government redistribution.  The purpose of such redistribution came about as people felt the government was the best place to turn to in order to support those that couldn’t support themselves through circumstances out of their control.  However, as all government programs do, it evolved to help minimize the ill effects of poor decision making by people that the elite have deemed incapable of making wise decisions.  So why would the son turn back to the father if the government is in his way. 
The importance here is that turning back to the father is not about moving back in with your parents, but turning back to our Heavenly Father.   The parable is then also flipped when it comes to the older sons response.  In the bible, he is angry that the father has welcomed his brother back.  First, the ring, the robe, the calf, and any future property bestowed on the younger son comes out of the older sons inheritance.  He has been a good son following all of the rules.  He is angry at his father’s decision to welcome his son back as he doesn’t see the equity in it.  The older son does not go to the banquet, and his response to his father’s request for him to come is left to the reader to conclude.  This parable is about relationship with our Father.  He values relationship by offering forgiveness, and he demonstrates that he prizes relationship over works.
In the entitlement era, you could look at the taxpayer as the older son.  The taxpayer does not get to have the Father relationship issue dealt with in that instead of the Father giving away his inheritance to the younger son, it is Rome coming in and taking it from both the Father and the older son to give it to all wayward sons.   The matter is no longer about the older son choosing relationship with the Father because what the father would do is removed from the equation. 
We know that Christ would have us act out of compassion.  There is no doubt of that.  But that compassion was never to come out of coercion through taxation and redistribution.  If God simply wanted all the poor to be provided for, he would do it himself.  Instead, in this fallen world, he is looking for people to choose on their own to provide for their fellow man as an act of love.  And for those that are destitute, he wants them to maintain their faith in God as the provider.  Tell me how there is room in this equation for a Christ loving people to use the power of the government to act where God himself does not.

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