What if the prodigal son leaves again?

So the parable of the prodigal son is always given to show God's acceptance of repentant sinners. Many similar stories (from the Bible or church history) are told of people who lived in sin their entire life and one day some life-changing event happens and they become saints. But this narrative is so silly because the vast majority of people don't change overnight, and certainly not without a good motive. 

What if the prodigal son after returning to the father gets bored and decides to sell the ring and all the other expensive stuff his dad gave him, and makes enough cash to leave his father again? 
Say he makes the same bad investments as before and ends up broke again then he goes back to his father saying the same words: "I have sinned before heaven and thee, no longer worthy to be your son, make me one of your hired servants". Would the father accept him again this time? Would he kick him out? Or would he take him up on the offer and make him a servant (teach him a lesson sort of speak)?

If the father accepts him again as a son, what is to prevent the son from staying again for a few days then leaving a third, fourth, fifth time, etc... Clearly he can enjoy the best of both worlds: his father's wealth and the company of his bad friends. Aside from any emotional bond he may have with his father (which he clearly didn't have to begin with), why wouldn't he keep going back and fourth as long as he says "sorry daddy" every time he comes back?

If you haven't understood the point of this question by now, what I am asking is:
- Is God's acceptance of sinners who repent and confess their sins endless (ie will he continue to forgive repeat offenders until they die?)
- If the answer is yes, why wouldn't any self-serving rational person take advantage of this by enjoying the pleasures of sin as long as they say sorry after (which is what repentance essentially is)?

Important Note: I am saying that any self-serving person "would" take advantage of this system but I am not saying that they "should". Self-serving behavior is something we all do whether we like to admit it or not (ex: hiding the good deeds we do on earth so that we get a reward in heaven); a self-serving prodigal son would likely take advantage of his father if there are no consequences. However that doesn't make it morally correct.

Comments

  • Repentance is not just "saying sorry"...it's much more then saying it or acting up on it or confessing because of it. It is the desire as much as it is the action. It is the feeling that we have done something that has caused us to drift from God and the will to want to go back to Him. That cannot only be shown by action. But it must be fulfilled in the repentant's heart....and the only BEING that can see the hearts is God. That's how a "self-serving rational person" cannot take advantage of the "system" because the system is overseen by the Creator who is the creator of all of us. He sees us and knows what we will do before we do it...yet we still have the free will to do what we want. 

    Your question is not new. That what the Jewish nation has turned into through the years. They took advantage of the system through their pharisaic worship, while ignoring the ultimate goal of that worship--that is to try to have a remembrance of God until the Messiah comes to actually be with us all.
  • edited March 30
    Ok I get what you're saying intention matters just as much as the action/words. However the problem with that is that intention to return to God is often there and it is the driver behind words and actions.

    Perhaps this is not the case with the prodigal son (he just returned because he got hungry) ... but most people return to God (in the form of prayer to ask God for forgiveness and confessing to a priest) because they feel that they have done something wrong and have a desire to make up for it and not repeat it in the future. The "feeling portion" of repentance is rarely the missing factor. 

    For instance, suppose someone has an anger problem and they get angry at the smallest thing. That person would not deny that it is wrong and probably feel bad every time he/she goes off at someone. However, mere feeling will not stop them from swearing at the next guy who cuts them off on the road. Now compare that to a scenario where a new traffic rule exists that penalizes any road rage with a $500 fine (and suppose that there is a system in place to actually enforce this). Now that person will think twice before raging at someone on the road. In the prodigal son story this would be the equivalent of the father telling his son "if you pull this ***t one more time you're gonna be a servant".

    What I'm trying to say is when it comes to making any real change in someone's life, intention is not very effective on its own, there has to be real deterrents. 
  • I am not talking about 'intention'...I believe that is always there. The majority of of humans are genuinely good and nice...but the aspect of realizing that being away from God is the sin, that's the problem in the world today. Maybe "feeling" is not the precise word, but it is definitely part of it. It is what we have in our heart that God looks at. 

    If the person has the desire to repent, and thinks about it, and acts on it, and practices it, and still fall into sin again, then that's ok. Despite how much unacceptable that may sound, it is truly how a Christian life should be--a dynamic life in which we are pulled away from God and strive to go back to Him. The only different is, once we go back to Him, we are just a big closer than before.

    I am not sure what deterrent do you want. God can never ever break His own rules...and one of those is freewill. Even the idea of "being punished" by God whenever some are away from Church, that is very Islamic in essence and very different from reality--there are tons of people out there that are not religious and are totally doing well for themselves. If everyone is punished whenever they are away from God, our freewill as God's greatest creation is destroyed because that way we are FORCED by Him to choose Him. 
  • Ok so with respect to my initial two questions, you are saying that:
    - God would forgive someone who "has the desire to repent, and thinks about it, and acts on it, and practices it" even if they fall into the same sin again and again
    - That person cannot take advantage of God's abundant mercy because repentance is something inside our heart (as much as it is outside) and God sees what's in the heart

    Now that's fair, but there is still the problem of what happens between the true repentance that you described and making the same mistake again? So if we go back to the prodigal son, he had the desire to repent, thought about it, and indeed acted on it. However, (if you entertain my imagination one more time), he gets bored after a few days and misses the fun wild life and decides to leave again. 

    Let's consider the moment he is walking out of the house. At that moment in time, is there anything at all that would make him reconsider the decision to walk out (other than an emotional gratitude/allegiance to his father)? When he initially returned to his father he had repented from the heart, and was truly willing to work as a servant. However he still couldn't stand the boredom in his father's house and he just had to leave again. So at that moment, standing at the gate of his father's house, what would you say to him to dissuade him from leaving, if anything?

    Finally I'll touch on your point about free will. Free will is simply the freedom to WILL; it has nothing to do with the ability to bring that will into action. When a government puts a tax on cigarettes or penalizes speeding they are not brainwashing people into hating hating cigarettes or obeying speed limits, people can still desire these things. The taxes and the penalties are simply ways of dissuading people from doing these things (for their own good). Similarly, God can allow someone to get sick or suffer financially or whatever to get people to turn to him, he wouldn't be robbing them of their free will, just nudging them in the right direction. It was my understanding that this is indeed something that God does with some people, but not everyone. 
  • small point, the Father's house is not boring. anyone who thinks it is has missed the point...
  • small point, the Father's house is not boring. anyone who thinks it is has missed the point...

    Well, something made him leave the first time at least. The "boredom" is just a place holder or example of the difficulties one may face in living with God. It is much easier to live away from him than with him. Thats the comfy wide road vs narrow road.
  • @Kyrillos97...i think my second paragraph in my last post answers your question about "making the same mistake again."

    In addition, if the person is "bored" of his father's house, then he doesn't really know the father as well as he should or thinks. And if he was repenting, his repentance would probably not be an acceptable one because it might be based on a different understanding of the relationship we should be having with God. If you watch a specific show and you really really love it for whatever reasons...would you get bored every time you see an episode or clip of it?! The answer is No, otherwise you can't really say that you love that show. I have watched the LoTR trilogy in a row, extended cut for atleast 6 times, and I am still willing to do so again with anyone if time permits. So if our subjective mind can ignore what others may find boring, why can't it also overcome the thought of "being a Christian is boring"?!....the bottom line is that it's all subjective, as it should be since we have the freewill to be subjective.

    Freewill: An action must start with the will. So even if freewill is just that, the freedom in choosing something, the same "thing" that's willing must take action to show what they have willed. Otherwise, they are just fooling themselves. The same thing with faith and works--James 2:26: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

    One more reason the government does what you mention is to also respect the rights of other people. It's not just about the well-being of the individual but others and the society as a whole. Also, the problem with assimilating God to the government is the other aspect having laws, that is what if these laws are not followed...then there is punishment...and again, God doesn't punish.

  • edited April 3
    Ok thanks for your response. I didn't mean for the "bored" part to be taken so literally. It was just an example of difficulties we may face obeying God's commandments. One can have a good relationship with God and enjoy going to church, prayer, bible reading etc ... without getting bored, yet keep falling in a particular sin simply because this is something he/she struggles with. 

    My point is that such a person will not have enough motivation to change, to actually stop or decrease the frequency of sin if they know that once they repent (sincerely) God will accept them, with no consequences and no questions asked. If you are walking down a path and you know there are traps in the ground, you are less likely to pay attention to those traps if you know that even if you step over a trap and fall there will always be a trampoline below and you can just bounce back up. The whole process just seems too easy. And this is the picture of God that is most often presented in churches. Yes God is loving, and yes God accepts sinners but God also hates sin and I find it hard to believe that he has no problem accepting the same mistakes over and over again without demanding some sort of improvement or progress. Christ himself gave the parable of the vineyard tenants who kept killing his messengers and he ended the parable with "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

    And to say that God doesn't punish is also hard to believe. The old and new testements both have examples (ex: Ananias and Sapphira in the book of acts). And then if you don't consider hell to be a punishment I don't know how else you would classify it. 
  • For anyone actually following this thread, I emailed my initial question (verbatim) to suscopts.org and this is the answer I received:

    “Peace & Grace,

    Yes, God's acceptance of sinners who repent and confess their sins is endless. He is willing to continue to forgive repeat offenders until they die. However, just saying, "sorry," is not repentance, as John the Baptist said, one must also "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Thus, in this case, God will not accept, “sorry,” from him, if this sinner is not bearing fruits befitting repentance. Sin is in our human nature. There is a vast difference between a sinner that wallows in sin and rejects the Holy Spirit urging repentance. This is blasphemy and the only unforgiveable sin. “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31). Repentance is a way of life. It is a daily struggle. All of us as penitents have some days in better strides combatting sins by God's grace than other days. However, our sins must always before our eyes so that we strive to further ourselves from complacency and arrogance. The prophet David says, "For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" (Psalm 51:3). The Church included this psalm in our daily hourly prayers as well as in liturgical prayers because we should be like David in his desire to repent wholeheartedly. We are all sinners, but we must be determined to cease the sins that entrap us, so that we can grow in virtue. Should one fall in the same sin after he repented, he must rise remorsefully, yet hopeful in God's endless mercies and compassion, as the prophet Micah says, "Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me" (Micah 7:8). The point that you are missing is a very important one, and that is the struggle. The scenarios you mentioned describe opportunists just trying to get away with their transgressions and only half-heartedly repent for selfish gain, need, and greed, but not out of remorse for offending God or hurting a fellow man. This is not repentance. Repentance is a process. St. Mary of Egypt (AD 421) had prostituted herself for seventeen years, then began a life of repentance struggling with her passions and previous life of fornication for many years while she lived in the desert, until she overcame those terrors (Synaxarion). There is a crown for struggling against sin and a crown for overcoming sin. The need to repent could be instantaneous like St. Paul, St. Moses the Strong, St. Paesa, and many others. However, the process and life of repentance needs guidance and healing. Notice in the biographies of many of these penitent saints that God provided a spiritual leader to guide them from a horrid life of bondage in sin to a life abundant in virtues.

    God Bless,
    [email protected]
  • nice reply.
    always a good idea to ask abouna!
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