Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Yes, the prodigal son did come home. His father ran to him and embraced him and welcomed him home with a robe and a ring and a joyous feast of celebration. He was unconditionally loved, forgiven and accepted. But what about the months and years that followed? Did the prodigal ever look back at that dark time in his past when he groveled in the sewer of life? Did the memories of his youthful foolishness and the life he had wasted in riotous living ever make him cringe? If he was anything like most of us I am sure there were times after the initial euphoria of his homecoming wore off when he was tormented by the painful memories of his past. Were there moments when the prodigal was haunted by his secret shame and mortification? What about the judgmental spirit of his self-righteous brother that was always lurking under the surface? Did the prodigal chaff under his quiet contempt, his censorious attitude and his cutting reminders? Did he struggle under the performance expectations of his elder brother who silently demanded that he do better, work harder and measure up? What about the scornful looks and shunned silence? What about those in town who knew all the dirty stories and lured gossip about the fallen son? Did he struggle with the shame of being the son who had blown it? Was he haunted by the stigma of being “damaged goods?” Were there times when the prodigal still felt unworthy to even be called a son? Were there times when he failed to embrace his father’s forgiveness and struggled with his own inability to forgive himself? These thoughts entered our conversation as my wife and I were sitting on the couch reflecting on some painful memories from our pasts. We talked about those seasons of great failures and deep disappointments that we both had struggled with. They were long seasons of lasting regret, a sense of profound failure and lasting shame in years gone by. But both of us have come to a place now where we can rejoice in the knowledge that he was faithful even when we weren’t and often redeemed something glorious and eternal out of those seasons. How many of you have also struggled with the same torment of lingering shame because of things you did or did not do in your past? How many of you have also failed miserably in times past? How many have blown it utterly and completely? How many have gone through the dark night of the soul because of moral failure, struggled with sinful obsessions, failed the test God had given or even grew backslidden and lukewarm in our hearts through complacency and neglect? How many experienced a season of moral failure like King David? How many of us lost our first love somewhere along the way? How many of us experienced the pain of divorce? How many of us wasted a season of our lives in self‑indulgence and love of this present world? How many feel the pain of some secret failure or hidden shame? How many of us experienced spiritual failures, moral failures, broken relationships, emotional breakdowns or ministry failures? How many still suffer silently under the judgment and censorship of others because of our past?
Does God rejoice in reminding us of our past failures? Does He delight in the condemnation of others? Does He hold our past against us? Does it honor Him if we beat ourselves up over it? Is He pleased with our shame? Does He rejoice when we seek to atone for our past failures through the self‑penance of perpetual guilt and mental anguish? Is He the one encouraging us to replay them, rehearse them, recycle them and rehash them? God convicts us of our sins but he is not an investigative reporter habitually sifting through our past garbage to throw them in our face. Yes, we all have skeletons in our closet but if we have confessed them and repented of them He has promised to cleanse and forgive us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John1:9) We may never be able to completely forget every past mistake, seasons of failure, the hurtful things we have done to others or our countless sins and shortcomings ‑ But we can take comfort in the knowledge that He is not holding these over our heads. He is not the source of our shame and condemnation. It fact, He doesn’t even remember them anymore. (Psalms 103:12 & 3; Isaiah 43:25, 44:22 & 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34)