If the prodigal had lived economically

The French theologian Simone Weil often wrote about the spiritual journey.  Her favorite image for it was Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.  “It is only the prodigals,” she claimed, “who find themselves in the arms of the Father.”  The elder brother, to whom the father says, “You have always been with me,” undergoes no religious experience.

Weil goes on to argue that it is very dangerous to our spiritual well-being to live too carefully.  We live too carefully when we assure ourselves that, like the elder brother, we have always stayed with the Father.  None of us possesses God.  He finds us periodically, and those moments of encounter are authentic religious experiences.  But all who really want to know God have to come to him as prodigals.

Although we are assured of our salvation in Jesus Christ, the Christian experience is full of opportunities to discover just how desperately we need that salvation.  Actually, that is the good news.  If the prodigal had lived economically, he would have never found his way home to the father.  The constant reminders of how far we have roamed from God make us all the more ready to receive God’s grace—which, of course, is the only way to get back home.  (Barnes, Yearning, pp.103-4, emphasis mine)

**Barnes/Weil is not suggesting we sin “so that grace may abound”.

5 thoughts on “If the prodigal had lived economically

  1. Linea

    Simone Weil is a very interesting character. She was a real ascetic besides being a philosopher. I find her life a bit fascinating but her thoughts are challenging to read.

  2. Tammy

    I have been interested in that older brother’s “religious experience” for a while now. Sure, there are those who stray far from God and return to his embrace, but the older brother experiences jealousy, bitterness and a general hit to his ego. His image to me is one of today’s church. We all must be broken to return to God’s arms. None of us are in any position to judge the prodigal son. We are all sinners even if we think we are staying with the Father. Just my thoughts. Maybe his is the harder lesson.

  3. Bil-1

    I don’t think the story of the prodigal is the best story to relate what I believe her general idea to be. Which is to be aware of how much we need God, and the only way to do that is to be out there on the edge. She’s appears to be saying that we need to live our lives in such a way that we NEED God in them lest they fall apart. And I don’t think the sinner-squanderer vibe of the prodigal is ideal to present such. Although the living carefree part presents a nice, but weak, parallel.

  4. Linea

    Maybe Weil’s idea of living on the edge was not so much living as the prodigal at the edge of morality so that he finally realized he needed God but rather living at the edge of our culture’s norms. She certainly lived at the edge culturally herself. In fact she pushed herself so far to the edge that she chose to live in extremely poor conditions – a true ascetic – which likely contributed to her early death from TB, I think.

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