Q&R with Brad Jersak – “Could the Prodigal Son parable apply to post-mortem conversion?”
I read your essay on the Prodigal. I wondered if you see anything in the parable that alludes to post mortem repentance? The son was dead… he finally repents in the bosom of his father… Let me know.
Thanks for the interesting question.
I had not thought about post-mortem repentance in the story of the Prodigal Son(s), mainly because in context, Christ was addressing the simple issue of self-righteous religious people who were despising rather than celebrating those who had repented and come to the table. The lost ones he’s talking about were sitting with them as he spoke.
However, if we don’t concern ourselves with the immediate situation, then at least by analogy, there’s no reason why the lesson could not be extended and projected into the life to come. It would certainly still align with the basic idea and, more than that, address the very real problem of those who, like the elder brother, are offended by the possibility of post-mortem repentance. I can just hear it: “How dare they be invited in after wasting their whole lives on themselves, on riotous living, on selfish pursuits, etc. Meanwhile, I slaved my whole life for you ….”
The implication is that such folks actually believe living for Christ in this life is a waste of time IF someone else isn’t punished for failing to do so. They are, in their hearts, actually envious of the supposed freedom of the hedonists and NEED there to be a hell as the only reason they don’t join in the ‘fun.’ They fail to see that their slavery is to their own lifeless, religious ideals rather than surrender to a truly abundant and eternal life in Christ. They don’t realize that even Paul’s notion of being a “slave of Christ” was nothing other than being compelled by divine Love to share the good news of reconciliation with his younger brothers (the Gentiles) despite the persecution of his elder brothers (his Judaizing opponents).
So, having said all that, I think your application of the parable has much to commend it, especially if we focus on the problem Jesus was addressing (religious resentment) and how we see resurface whenever the possibility of post-mortem repentance is raised. Well done.