Carry On My Wayward Son
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Rembrandt van Rijn was a brilliant painter who, among other subjects in his career, captured biblical scenes with magnificent clarity. His painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” portrays the return of the wayward son to his father based upon Jesus’s parable in Luke 15.
The painting captures that life had been hard for this young man, as Rembrandt presents him with a missing shoe, and with the remaining shoe in tatters. His clothes and hair are disheveled, and his body emaciated and spent. It had been a mad race leaving him empty, exhausted, and ashamed.
We know from Luke 15 that this son had demanded his inheritance from his father, and in so doing was communicating that he wished his father was dead. The father yielded to the request, and subsequently this brazen rebel squandered it all on wasteful living.
The parable fast forwards us to this son who had spent all his money and was now starving in a pig pen far from home. The turning point in this rebel’s life is found in Luke 15:17 where the text says in an economy of words, “he came to his senses.” As he reflected on the good nature of his father, he acknowledged to himself that his behavior was indeed crazy.
This is a very helpful commentary on sin and rebellion. In short, it is insanity. The narrative of the Bible underscores that rebels never live “happily-ever-after” if they carry on in their rebellion. From the earliest pages of the Scripture, the Lord God of heaven expresses hatred toward rebellion and pledges to judge it. We also learn that this God who abhors sin is also a Father who forgives and restores those who come to Him with their brokenness and failure. God is the ultimate rebel lover, but we must come on His terms.
One of the memorable rock anthems of the 1970’s was from Kansas entitled, “Carry on My Wayward Son.” The song speaks eloquently of the pride, confusion, and lostness of a prodigal in search of truth and meaning.
“Though my eyes could see, I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think, I still was a mad man…
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don’t know…
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean…”
The song writer, Kerry Livgren, who became a believer in Jesus Christ in 1980, concluded the song in what seems to be a prophetic conclusion to his own prodigal journey:
Now your life’s no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you
Carry on, my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry (Don’t you cry no more)
There is a quiet place of rest for prodigals and those who love them. Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son as an indictment to the Pharisees who had no room for mercy in their view of God and in their treatment of others. We all share a wayward, sinful nature. We are all prodigals at heart that drives us to the pig pen leaving us empty and broken. Luke 15 brings incredible hope with a vision of God who receives sinners. Jesus was saying through this powerful narrative that this is what the Father in heaven is like, so by all means run to Him.
When Prodigals Don’t Come Home
We rejoice when prodigals come home, and there is strong hope given in the Gospel that there is always room for reconciliation and healing. However, some prodigals return, and some do not. This is a mystery of God’s grace and providence.
King David had a son named Absalom. There were many advantages and disadvantages being the son of Israel’s king. There was much to learn from a father with an incredible gift mix. David was accomplished as an inspired writer of psalms and as a courageous military leader.
However, even with all of these skills, David was detached from his family life and bore the painful consequences of his sins associated with Uriah and Bathsheba. In the matrix of such a home life, Absalom did not possess an allegiance or respect for his father.
In fact, Absalom stole the hearts of Israel and mounted a devastating rebellion against his father’s reign. Sporting a striking appearance and being declared more handsome than any, Absalom’s vanity was appalling. Through his pride and sexual prowess, Absalom defiled shamelessly his father’s bed.
In the ensuing battle between David and Absalom for the Davidic kingdom, David said to his forces, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (2 Kings 18:5) However, in the woods of Ephraim, Absalom’s head became entangled in an oak tree. Thus, suspended between heaven and earth, he became an easy target for David’s forces. We read in 2 Kings 18:14, that Joab thrusted three spears through Absalom’s heart.
Absalom’s rebellion and betrayal were treacherous. Yet, David’s sorrow upon hearing of his son’s death produced one of the greatest cries of grief in all the Bible, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Kings 18:33) Absalom never came back, and died a tragic death in the wilderness of Ephraim.
I Don’t Care What You Have Done, I Don’t Care What You Have Become, Just Come Home
One of the difficulties in dealing with prodigals is the deception of their heart. Often they want their circumstances changed, and their needs met, without a change in lifestyle. This surfaces when life gets hard and the bills come due, and they have no resources. In the squalor of their bad decisions, they say, “This stinks, and I don’t like this at all.” They are not exaggerating either. Their pursuit of freedom has led to a tunnel of misery, and they are lost in the labyrinth of painful consequences. They want to reconnect with family, friends, but not out of a sense of humility and repentance. No, they want another opportunity for others to fund their life while they can continue doing what landed them in the pig stye.
These are not the terms found in God’s numerous appeals throughout Scripture. Isaiah the prophet preached, “Come, let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though red like crimson they shall be as wool.” (Is. 1:18)
Later in Isaiah’s prophecy the way forward for every rebel is made clear, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)
And Isaiah 54:7 which captures the heart of God when he says, “With deep love I will welcome you back.” These invitations are a call to leave our rebellion behind and to press forward in God’s grace with a heart of obedience to sin no more. This journey of grace calls every believer to be a lifelong repenter.
The amazing grace of God found in Jesus Christ is greater than all of our failure, and communicates this hope from God Himself, “I don’t care what you have done. I don’t care what you have become. Just come home.”