Problem Management — religious Q&A
The Prodigal Son

We hear of how the prodigal son's return was celebrated, but wasn't this very unfair to the sensible son that did the right thing? Should we continue forgiving people that do wrong when we do so at the expense of other people that do right?

Yes, we should continue forgiving, but it doesn't have to be at the expense of others. And yes, the way many people tell this story, it does seem very unfair, but it wasn't.

First I should point out that many people don't know what the word prodigal means. It does not refer to someone that returns after having left home, but simply means someone that wastes money.

Now notice how the son returned. He didn't say I spent all my money so I've decided to move back home. What's for dinner?. He returned because he realized the error of his ways and that he belonged with his family. And he returned admitting this and realizing that he must suffer the consequences of his foolish actions. Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

We too should forgive those that sin against us, but forgiveness doesn't work unless the sinner admits the sin, regrets it, and desires never to do it again. And even then, no amount of forgiveness can make the consequences of one's sins go away.

The father celebrated his son's return, but his happiness was for regaining what he thought he had lost, and for knowing that his son had learned a valuable lesson and become a better human being. The damage that the son had done was not, and could not, be undone, and the son would have to accept that situation.

The father told his other son: all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

The important point that often gets missed is the all that I have is thine. The younger son had wasted his half of the family fortune. It is gone and can't be recovered. The elder son will still inherit everything that is left, his full share of his father's estate, just as if his brother hadn't spent his own share.

The prodigal son, who fully repented of his folly, was totally forgiven and welcomed back into his family, but he still had to live with the consequences of his actions, he would not inherit anything from his father and would have to work for his brother.