“Love’s Justice”

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Love’s Justice

Is love inconsistent with justice in our human interactions?  At times we hear the words “tough love” uttered by parents who wish to instill in their children some important life lesson, and often there is a struggle in determining a clear set of determining principles as to how this process is to be carried out.

Jesus tells a story about a father and his two sons.  One son was dutiful and stayed home to work for his father.  The other was rebellious: he demanded his inheritance upfront, went to a far country, and spent all his resources on riotous living.  When his money ran out, and he recognized the error of his ways, he repented and journeyed back home, hoping he would find work as one of his father’s servants.

But instead of giving a scathing rebuke for all that the wayward son had done, the father adorned his son with the best robe, put a ring on his finger, and sandals for his feet.  Then he ordered the fatted calf to be killed, and a feast prepared.  The dutiful son was terribly upset at his father’s actions towards his long-lost brother.  He refused to join in the feast and stayed outside in the darkness of his own creation — the darkness of a harsh spirit and a lack of love for his sibling.

A strange story perhaps,  for there was no logical and expected justice served to the wayward son, but a total reversal of expected outcomes: the obedient son is standing outside in darkness, while the rebellious son is reveling inside the house, feasting with his father.

What then, becomes of justice in this story?  Jesus gives the assurance that Love is the only real justice, for the main purpose of justice is not punishment, but reclamation. A justice that is truly enlightened is less concerned with the punishment of wrong than its reparation.

Had the father issued a harsh verdict against the prodigal son, coldly dismissing him, he would have been unjust to his son’s future potential, and thus would have sinned a more grievous sin against his own son.  The worst sinner in the story was the son who did everything right, and yet acted in a vile, censorious, loveless way towards his brother.

One who does not love cannot be just.

God is Love, and God’s forgiveness is God’s justice, for if we acknowledge the error of our ways, and head back home to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our shortcomings, and to restore us into fellowship with Him, our Heavenly Father,  through His Son Jesus Christ.

* William J. Dawson, “The Empire of Love”, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907, pp 33-44.
* Luke 15: 11-32, King James Version

34 thoughts on ““Love’s Justice”

  1. Not to be overlooked in the story is the fact that the prodigal son is repentant, humbled; the older son is not. The story is not so much about the son’s “future potential” as we are only given one day at time as it unfolds to us and we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Rather, it is about what genuine repentance can bring about in the life of those who are truly repentant. The story did not say that once the prodigal son ran out of money that he came back defiant and looking for more; no, he was genuinely humbled and repentant before he ever arrived back home. The prodigal son is a wonderful story with many facets to it.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and wonderful input, Sara! Yes, the key is repentance, a changed, contrite heart. True, we are guaranteed only “today”, but God also promises a hope and a “future” in His plans for us, as in His promise in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I agree that the prodigal son is a wonderful story with so many dimensions to it. God bless you! Dee

  2. I love the message here, Dee. Some would argue that the more dutiful son deserved love more, and yet, any father knows (as the Father knows) that we all deserve love. Love is not something we must earn, but something given to us out of grace. Love carries not a place for jealousy and envy……but welcomes home the broken with no regard to the leaving. ~ Beautiful, my friend. ~ Always, Bobbie

  3. Very good post. Thanks. I especially appreciate the reference you used.

    My brother turned me on to W.J. Dawson a few years ago and blessed me with several of his books since then. William’s theology is not always synonymous with the teachings of the Lord, but he does arrive at some pure conclusions as he does here. His writings include some incredible insight, and it is always a wonder that a man’s work of a century ago is still very relevant today.

    Loveless religion is quick to condemn, but Love actually is the only real justice, as with this prodigal son and also the woman taken in adultery, as long as we accept such a great gift properly and go and sin no more…

    • Thank you for your authoritative comment, especially the remark that this is a pure conclusion that the author arrived at. I bore witness to W. J. Dawson’s thesis about Love being the only real justice, as scriptural, especially in the light of I John 1:9. “The Empire of Love” is the first book of W. J. Dawson that I have read; I am glad to know you have read many of his books, and a bit intrigued about the similarity of both of your names in terms of the middle initial and Last Name.

      Congratulations on the launch of your e-book. I look forward to reading it in the near future.

  4. Yes, I really valued this interpretation… Being the eldest who always tried to be good and only got clobbered while the others basked in sunshine, I always felt sorry for the eldest son… but your interpretation gave me a new way of seeing it… I could never understand why the eldest son seemed to be discriminated against – this explains it!
    This showed me once again how we see everything through the lens of our own experience…

    • How true, Valerie, that we see everything through the lens of our own experience! It is interesting that the eldest got clobbered in your family, whereas in our society, the eldest is in the catbird seat and favored, while the younger ones are clobbered. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I am glad to have shared a new perspective on the story of the prodigal son! Dee

  5. Heard this story many times Dee – but the way you presented it, I dunno, but it touched me. Thank you my dear – I needed to hear this story again. I believe the message finally got through to me.

    Peace and luv, Eric

  6. reconciliation is at the center of the gospel ~I believe there’s always righteous justice in righteous love that is seeking only what is eternally and temporally beneficial but, the transgressor must have a broken & contrite heart. God chastises whom he loves. BEAUTIFUL post!

  7. Dee, you have beautifully captured the true essence of this parable! I have two sons; and thankfully the one who walks the path is sincere and a true light of love to the prodigal. I dearly love them both.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Thank you, Wendy. Apologies for the delayed response… your sons are a blessing — thank you for telling me about them. I have a son and a daughter, and they have different personalities as well. God bless! Dee

  8. A valuable message in your words my beloved sister! Love is all forgiving, and brings about a total healing, and with some it takes a longer time, but pure love presented can change a heart of stone to one of flesh, opening up the heart to His love first and then allowing one to share it with others! Outstanding post Dee…God bless you and much love to you always. I have been sick for a while but I always finding certain healing in the spiritual love you share through your words!

    • I am sorry to hear that you have been sick for a while, Wendell, and I am thankful to learn that somehow you find certain healing in my posts. To God be the glory! I lift you up in my prayers, Wendell. God bless you, dear brother!

  9. i have only just come into the blogging world and was led to your blog. So inspiring and what I am looking for. Congratulations

    • Dear Barb, I am so glad that you came across my blog, and it is a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for the delayed response as I am currently traveling. I look forward to visiting your blog as well. All my best, Dee

  10. Again you dug the nugget of truth out of the parable-for edification. And As Jesus said the only real justice is love. And the main purpose of justice is not punishment, but reclamation. I never could understand why other people could not see this. I have always loved this. I guess because in my heart I felt like a prodigal who had left my father (God) even thro outtwardly I was like the eldest son, inwardly I was more like the rebellious son, and didn’t know how God could forgive me . This has always been my favorite story.

    • Thank you for sharing aspects of your life which correspond to this parable. It is very interesting that we can identify with both the prodigal son as well as the eldest son. This story indeed is beautiful in its truth-piercing message that Jesus brings out in its surprising outcome. Forgiveness is something that we need and touches us to the very core. God bless you!

  11. I will say that this story teaches many lessons! And you brought to us the most important one concerning our children…IF I had practiced “tough love” and did what almost EVERYONE told me to do…my daughter would be dead today. She had a drug issue…I did NOT give up on her…I would go out in the middle of the night to find her in abandoned apartments…at 4 AM to pick her up 80 miles away after her druggie friends left her…twice she was taken to the hospital just in time because I looked for her until I found her—NO…it was not easy–it was HELL…but “tough love” maybe means being a tough enough parent not to give-up on your child!

    • Wow, what a story. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Truly you have turned other people’s definition of “Tough Love” on its head — to be tough on ourselves and not give up on our children. I pray many parents who find themselves in the same situation as what you went through, would also be led to follow this kind of “tough love”, which is really what true love is all about. Thanks so much again. With hope and love, Dee

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