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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


The parable of the Prodigal Son

Dissecting the parable of the Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

New Living Translation (NLT)

Parable of the Lost Son

 11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

 13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

 20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as your hired servant.’

 22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

This parable hits at our hearts, because all of us rebel and become separated from God. This parable also sums up the essence of the gospel, Christianity and the nature of God. 

Up to this point in Luke Chapter 15, Jesus is speaking of God the Father and of God’s desire to seek, rescue and save that which is lost. The Father represents God and the two sons represent either extremes of religious observance. The older son is a legalist who follows the laws and rule without question but his heart has little compassion. The younger son has little interest in the law but has an insatiable itch to follow pleasure, money and the things that the world has to offer. He has a short term self gratifying mindset. One son had no love for his father, became alienated from the family and fell into deep sin.  The other had no love for his father but stayed at home with the proper appearances of obedience without love.

The younger son is restless and discontent; always longing to be or do something else.  He hated his life and dreamed of a different life somewhere else.  Life on the farm, even with God as his Father, was so dull, uneventful, structured and boring he feels as he was going to burst if he stays another second. He may have complained to his older brother, “This isn’t living, this is being constrained by rules and doing things that I don’t want to do. I want to go out and live my life instead being cooped up on this farm in the middle of Boonville.” 

After living in discontentment for a long time, the younger son went to his father and demanded everything that was rightfully his; his inheritance. In Jewish culture, the act of asking for the inheritance is considered to be the highest act of rebellion, in essence, wishing that the father was dead.  But the kind and gracious Father, who knows and sees all, took no offense and freely gave the son his inheritance. The Father loved his son, but he will not hold the son against his will. The son was free to come and go as he wished. The father wants love to be the only constraint to binds the son to himself; not intimidation, money or guilt.   The Father always loves and that love always binds himself to the son. He will love the son whether he is working for him, in rebellion, in his riotous living or when he is in the pig pen. 

The Father knew that the rebellious son would waste the inheritance in rebellious living and he gave his son everything; freely. Not once did the Father try to talk the son out of the evil he had planned or become offended by the rebellion.

The Father was perfect in all that he did and said, but yet his son was not content to live with him. Despite growing up in perfect circumstances, the son wandered away from what he knew was right. In this case, the son’s decision to follow the lusts of his heart was not a product of poor parenting.   

As the prodigal son gathered his things and headed off to a far off city to live a life of sin, the Father never tried to stop him, didn’t plead with him not to go, nor did he chase him and rescue him.  The Father held open the door with a smile, while his heart ached, knowing the pain, frustration and disappointment that awaited his son. 

While the son was gone, the Father woke up early every morning and stood on the porch straining his eyes to see if could get a glimpse of the son on the horizon.   But he never went down the road to find his son. He never sent a letter to his son asking him to come home. And the father never sent his son any money even when his son was down and out; barely surviving on food that the pigs ate.

The son lived many days following the wild desires of his heart. Unfortunately, his heart was thoroughly corrupt and destructive.   Since his father was a wealthy man, the son was able to live a long time on his inheritance. (From the response of the older brother at the end of the parable, my guess is that the younger son was gone for several years.)  But no matter how much money he had started out with, it is destined to run out sooner or later. And when he ran out of money, his friends and the world wanted nothing to do with him. The world is a user. It uses you and as soon as you have nothing more to offer it, it will chew you up and spit you out. The world will teach you that you are replaceable and have little value apart from what you have.

The son ended up in a pig pen; feeding pigs. For a Jewish person, there is nothing lower and more unclean than pigs. Jesus was able to capture the essence of the degree of depravity that the son had fallen to with the pig pen analogy. This son had reached rock bottom and had started to dig. This was as low as humanly possible and still be alive.

Growing up in a Godly household, this son knew how to pray. And he prayed often that God would deliver him from his pigpen, bless him and give him abundance. But God never answered that prayer. If God gave him abundance while he was in that condition, God would essentially be enabling him to stay in that condition.  

God is not a God who enables us to stay in the pig pen. God is not a co-dependent enabler. God is a healing God, who gives us the strength to get out of the pig pen, heals us and gives us the abundance that we desperately want, but only after we recognize our sinful condition, come to the end of ourselves and come back to God with a repentant heart.  

We will never have abundance while we live in the pigpen. God will only provide part of our basic necessities; food, water, clothing and shelter. We will not have anything to give to anyone. In fact, this lack of basic necessities provoked jealousy and envy in the prodigal son. There are two sets of people that have abundance; his former riotous friends and the people in his father’s household.   His former riotous friends had rejected him, but perhaps his father will accept him and forgive him. 

The turning point in this parable is that while sitting in the pig pen, the son came to his senses and thought, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.” In this one instant, the prodigal son finally came to the end of himself, realized who he was, saw who God was and the correct response to God.  

But the prodigal son came to this decision at the end of a long process. The son had to deal with the emotions of pain, pride and fear. The pain of his current situation had to exceed his pride and his fear for him to even consider facing his family again. He knew that his brother was a self-righteous, legalistic, harsh, compassion-less, holier than thou, ‘see I told you so’ type of person.   His brother wasn’t going to accept him back home. His brother was probably going to make his life miserable and constantly remind him of his failures. But pain has a way of making us do things that we really don’t want to do. The pain and desperation was a tool in God’s hand to help him overcome his pride and anxiety of what may happen after he returns. 

God is a God of second chances. While the son was yet a long way off, the Father, who was constantly looking for him, recognized him on the horizon and ran out to meet in with great joy. (God will meet us part way, but we have to leave the pig pen and determine to come home.)  The son was still wearing his pig pen clothes, smelled like a pig pen and looked terrible. But the Father was able to look through the external and look at the heart. He looked beyond the faults and saw the need.

The older brother was not able to look past the pig pen to see his brother’s heart. And he resented the Father’s joy over the return of the filthy whore monger.  The older son addresses the father abruptly, hinting of disrespect, frustration and impatience. "I've been slaving for you these many years"— The verb is douleun , related to doulos, servant. His relationship to his father was based on work, not love.

In this parable, the Lord compels us to celebrate over the return of a prodigal. The Father tells the older son, “We had to celebrate — The word edei is used, meaning "it was necessary." Rejoicing about the return of a lost person isn't just an option; it is a necessity.  The older refers to the prodigal as “your son” a term of disassociation while the father refers to him as “this brother of yours” — Not "my son," but "your brother." The father reminded the older son of his family responsibility. The implication is that it is necessary for him to rejoice.

After the entire ordeal is completed and the prodigal son is re-instated into the family, who is in better standing before God; the humbled prodigal son or the older self-righteous brother? Clearly, the younger humbled brother. He is home because of love. His bond of love with the father is stronger than work or any sense of commitment. He is compassionate. He is sensitive to the needs, hurts and longings of others. He will never exalt himself above the servants in his Father’s house. He has a clear understanding of who he is, yet with the knowledge and experience that the Father loves him unconditionally. 

Although the prodigal son has character qualities of humility, compassion, a servant’s heart and mercy, he will always be plagued with the consequences of his experiences in riotous living. The scars of every wound will remain as a reminder of his rebellion.   His inner battle will be one of guilt; knowing that he destroyed his inheritance. 

God is love. In His mercy and grace, He will give us far more chances than we deserve, but we will suffer the consequences of our poor decisions.  However, in the scheme of eternity, the riotous/pigpen route brought the son into a relationship with the Father that he would never have had if he stayed on the farm and was miserable, complaining and malcontent.  It would have been best if the young son would have developed a heart of gratitude, thankfulness and humility without going into the pigpen. But he had exhausted all options on the farm and had to learn the difficult way. And he did learn.

The older son is contrasted to the younger: The younger starts the story by leaving home, the older starts by returning. The younger then decides to go home, the older refuses to enter. The younger wants to be his father's servant, the older son resents being a servant. The younger son admits guilt; the older one insists on his own innocence.

In the first two parables of chapter 15, the lost items were found by searching. But here, the younger son was found by waiting.  God rejoices over (cf. the celebration) and honors (cf. the robe, ring and sandals) every sinner who repents. He doesn't wait for a full and formal apology; he perceives the attitude and comes toward us.

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