The Other Son
Have you ever felt like all the good stuff goes to the undeserving? You’re not alone.
I sat in church as the beautiful young mother of five shared her testimony while her handsome husband smiled from the audience. She recounted how, in her early 20s, she had chosen a lifestyle inconsistent with her Christian faith and became pregnant.
The guy left her, and she gave birth to her son — who had Down syndrome. Meanwhile, a man she had been friends with since high school began spending time with her and her son.
One day the man told the young woman that he no longer wanted to be just her best friend; he asked her to be his wife and expressed his desire to adopt her son as his own.
They got married and went on to have four more children and be a model family in our church. This mother’s story wasn’t the first like it that I’d heard — rebellion followed closely by what seemed like a fairytale ending. And honestly, it didn’t seem fair.
* * *
There was once a hard-working and conscientious young man who rose early each morning to check on his father’s fields. He spent his days managing his father’s house and taking care of his father’s animals. In every way, he was the ideal son.
It wasn’t an easy life, but the young man knew his efforts would one day pay off. He was the oldest son, and as such he would receive not only a birthright, but an inheritance upon his father’s death.
And so he toiled day after day, choosing the way of responsibility and honoring his father’s wishes. When he found himself daydreaming about his future life and everything that would be his, he pushed those thoughts aside and carried on as the dutiful son.
The Good Girl
My relationship with God began when I was very young. As a 4 year old, I told a lie that led me to God’s grace and a simple understanding of the Cross. From that point forward, I had little difficulty walking with Him. I’m sure my compliant personality and desire for everyone (including God) to like me helped with that. But, regardless of the reason, I found it easy to obey the rules and avoid the world’s pitfalls.
As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, making choices for purity and righteousness seemed almost effortless at times. I was puzzled by — and sometimes judgmental toward — people who called themselves Christians but made sinful choices.
And when I compared my life to that of unbelievers, deep down I felt smug in the knowledge that I was choosing the greater way, and because of my faithfulness, I would reap rewards that the less faithful never would. After all, the Bible says a lot about how the Lord blesses the righteous.
I think I believed that something like choosing to not have sex before marriage would ensure that God would give me a more handsome, godly husband (in a more timely manner) than someone who didn’t wait. My understanding of God’s blessing was based on me — a reward for my faithfulness and good behavior.
Slap in the Face
One day as the young man was returning to his father’s house, he overheard the servants discussing an awful rumor. Earlier that day, his younger brother had gone to their father and demanded his inheritance early — a shocking display of disrespect.
The young man burned with anger. His brother asking for his inheritance early was the equivalent of stating that he wished his father were already dead.
The young man wasn’t sure what made him angrier: that his brother had shown such blatant disrespect or that his father had yielded to the selfish request and given his brother half of all he owned.
Still, the man felt something else along with his anger — something almost enjoyable. Was it self-satisfaction? His brother had made his choice, which would certainly end in his ruin, and now the family was rid of him. His younger brother would have to face the consequences of his poor decisions, and his father would have to face the reality of his younger son’s inferior character.
It was during my late-20s that I began to realize things weren’t shaping up for me exactly as I had planned. That handsome, godly husband hadn’t come along. And instead of managing a home and taking care of a growing family as I had expected to do, I went to an office each morning, earning the money to pay my own bills.
I didn’t resent my life. I knew God was blessing me in many ways. But some of my heart’s key desires had not been met. And it stung to see others — particularly those who hadn’t played by God’s rules — receive the very things I longed for.
The Bible talks about this. After Jesus tells His followers to love their enemies, He adds this peculiar phrase: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God’s grace touches everyone — regardless of how deserving they are (and really none of us is deserving).
Life returned to normal for the dutiful son. He continued to care for the fields and the house and the animals. But as much as he willed his father to forget about his irresponsible younger brother, the father could not. In fact, he had developed the annoying habit of scanning the horizon several times each day, searching for his lost son.
One day, the young man returned from the field to the sound of music and celebration. Puzzled, he asked a servant what was going on. “Your brother has come back!” the man said. “And your father has killed his best calf to celebrate.”
Angry tears filled the young man’s eyes. So unjust was the situation that he could not even bring himself to go into the house. After a while, his father came out to him. “Come in, my son,” he gently pleaded. “Celebrate your brother’s return.”
The young man could hold back no longer. Words spewed forth like explosive sparks from the fire. “All these years I have worked hard for you. I have always honored your wishes. But you have never rewarded me or given me a fraction of the honor you now bestow on my brother. He spent your money on prostitutes! And yet you celebrate him with your very finest.”
The father’s eyes looked sad. “Son, you are always with me,” he said. “All I have is yours.” He paused. “But we had to celebrate. Your brother was dead and is now alive. He was lost but is now found.”
What I Deserve
I have often related to the emotions of the older brother in this story. Like him, I have sought to obey the Father for most of my life. And yet there have been times when it seems that someone who has not honored Him receives the very thing I desperately desire.
The truth is God does not give me what I deserve. If He did, I would be eternally separated from Him because of my sin. But thanks to reconciliation through His Son’s sacrifice, He does not treat me as my sins deserve (Psalm 103:10).
Still, I think most of us perceive that a righteous life should yield a greater reward than an unrighteous life. (And there are many Scriptures that back this up.) Where I can get tripped up is when I start to believe that I have a God’s-eye view of the situation.
The Bible is clear that there are consequences — seen and unseen — to disobedience. The older brother had no idea of the hell his younger brother had been through as a result of his sinful choices. Meanwhile, the older brother had continued to enjoy daily fellowship with his father and the benefits that relationship provided.
I may think someone emerged from sin unscathed, but only God sees the true picture. He has compassion for the sinner. His greatest desire is to pull people from sin and into relationship with Him.
The Father delights in a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He welcomes the sinner and rejoices over those who repent. And He invites those who walk closely with Him to view with joy His grace and redemption in the lives of others.
* * *
As I sat in church listening to that mother’s testimony, I found tears welling up in my eyes. I was reminded anew of God’s love and care, and the beautiful way in which He redeems lives for His glory. That’s what the father wanted his son to understand — the beauty of His compassion and the depth of His love.
You are always with me, he says. All I have is yours. But now we must celebrate.
That’s the privilege of the other son.
Copyright 2012 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.