If you make yourself a friend of the world,
you cannot be God’s friend.
The father of the prodigal son was a pious and God-loving man, because only such a man could have allowed his sons their full freedom and still receive one of them back with love and honor (and unself-conscious forgiveness) after he had abused his freedom and defiled himself.
The boy was ‘brought up right.’
A good marriage and family life does not come about by magic. It begins with mutual faith. It grows and is sustained by mutual faith and faithfulness. And it continues blessed and good right to the end only as long as the first faith and trust is preserved inviolable.
What can destroy it? Wanton breaking of the commandments, adultery, bearing false witness, theft and covetousness—all of which stem from forgetting who is the Lord: ‘I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’
I have passed on to my sons what my dad passed on to me, ‘If you are looking for a good wife, you don’t go looking for one in bars. You go to church and find one.’ Though I did not exactly follow his instructions—he told me this after I was married—I followed a slightly different route, which is maybe even better: Pray to the Lord to send you a wife, and then watch closely whom He sends to you, just as you watch for friends that He sends you, and one of these will be your wife. It goes without saying—or does it?—that you are living a life of discipleship when you make this prayer.
How simple all of life is, especially family life and our circle of relationships, when we follow the commandments! Jesus says, ‘If you love Me, you will follow my commandments.’ That’s what I’m talking about, not some rigorous set of rules whether biblical or self-improvement-minded, neither of which will ever succeed in really making anyone better. ‘Branch out for a time they may, but when you look for them they will be gone, vanished like their vain hopes.’ Christ is at once the source of all righteousness, the way to it, and the achievement of it. ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’ says Jesus (John 14:6).
Even being raised in a pious family, a son does not become a Christian by magic. As soon as he reaches the age of independent decision, his parents’ faith no longer speaks for him the moment he makes the conscious choice to take the world for his friend, instead of God. Even after making that choice, he can repent, and God our heavenly Father, can and will take him back. But just as the father of the prodigal son did not restrain that son from the choices he made, neither does God, or the parents, restrain him or constrain him. They may advise, they may teach, they certainly must pray for him to turn away from his friendship with the world, but they cannot force him to give it up. He must want a better friendship.
So it is, that a man who has taken the world for his friend no longer thinks of God, except of the punishment that he will receive after everything he does is done and his life is over—if there is a God.
Instead of memories of a youth spent in innocent fun and friendships, he finds memories only of riotous relationships, infidelities, the waste of his virginity and that of one he might have truly loved and been wedded to, and years of profound loss: spoiled friendships, missed opportunities, time and money wasted, and all for what? Now the mercy of God can only drive him to even more miserable states, to where he, like the prodigal son feeding unclean animals (pigs) and not even being given their slop for food, finds himself at another point of decision: To utterly despair, or to return to his Father.
Rather than flee from house to house, or from town to town, to escape his brown girls and their offspring, like John of Puritania this son needs to turn around and start traveling Home, facing East. The road back will look very different than that same road looked when he made the world his friend and followed it to the place of bondage. By making God, in Christ, his Friend, the road will turn into something very, very narrow, but he won’t mind that, because he will hear his Friend going ahead of him, saying, ‘Follow Me.’