Let’s get back to the parable of the prodigal son.
While the prodigal son is out in the world–living out what the world lives, and loving it–we get a different picture from the parables given just before. You see, unlike the parable of the lost sheep, or the lost coin, in the parable of the prodigal son there is no one out seeking diligently for the lost son.
Some might say that it is because, unlike the lost sheep or coin, the lost son knows how to get back home. To a certain extent, this is true. But, there is a greater truth that Jesus is revealing here. It is the works of the self-righteous, “stay-at-home son” in contrast to how God loves and works as a faithful shepherd or a diligent wife. Jesus claims to be the true, good Shepherd (John 10:14). Jesus is Wisdom, depicted as a woman who cries out in the streets seeking those who will respond to the call of repentance (Proverbs 8:22; 1:20-33).
The son who stayed home is also depicted as having the wrong attitude toward his father. For after his prodigal brother returns home, he has this to say to his father: “And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.” KJV, Luke 15:28, 29.
Do you get the picture painted by this son? He apparently is obedient to all of his father’s commandments, yet it is not obedience performed as a son, but rather a servant! Here is the true contrast between the prodigal son who came to his senses and choose to return to be as a willing servant, and that of the “stay-at-home” son who gives unwilling obedience as an ungrateful servant!
Truly, Jesus is not teaching unconditional love with this parable. In fact, He is contrasting the works of the Pharisees who claim to be sons of Abraham, with His own works. Note how the Spirit of Prophecy enlarges upon this contrast:
“It is not Christ’s follower that, with averted eyes, turns from the erring, leaving them unhindered to pursue their downward course. Those who are forward in accusing others, and zealous in bringing them to justice, are often in their own lives more guilty than they. Men hate the sinner, while they love the sin. Christ hates the sin, but loves the sinner. This will be the spirit of all who follow Him. Christian love is slow to censure, quick to discern penitence, ready to forgive, to encourage, to set the wanderer in the path of holiness, and to stay his feet therein.” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, 462, emphasis added.)
Now, some would have us believe that God unconditionally loves the sinner. But this is not the intent of Ellen White. She draws the contrast between how men work, and how God works, in relation to the sinner. But God does not love the unrepentant sinner. The Bible clearly states, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” KJV, Psalm 5:4-6. Again the psalmist wrote, “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” KJV, Psalm 7:11. So, what does Ellen White have to say to clarify on this point of God loving sinners?
“God hates sin, but he loves the penitent, and declares, ‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.'” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, February 22, 1906, emphasis added.)
At the end of the parable, the prodigal son is welcomed home and the father throws a party–because he was penitent. What is the attitude of the father toward the “stay-at-home” son? What is going to be the response of the “stay-at-home” son to the father’s entreaties?