Pre-Pigsty Prodigal OR Post-Pigsty Prodigal?

Lessons from “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”

In Luke 15:11-32, we have the famous parable about the prodigal son. It is a story with two sons and a father who welcomes the younger son back after he wasted his inheritance on “wild living” (Luke 15:13b, NIV). This story lives in our pop culture when talking about someone who goes away under bad circumstances to only return “home.”

The Prodigal Has Return!” they proclaim.

I wonder how many here as faithful spouses have heard this parable twisted to mean you must take back your adulterous spouse. God took back the younger son after a season of wild living after all. We should follow His example welcoming back our prodigal spouse. That is how the reasoning goes.

However, this reasoning is seriously flawed.

wpid-2015-02-12-20.37.02.jpg.jpegThe application of this story to mean an insistence upon taking back an adulterous spouse glosses over some very important elements of the story. It fails to take into account the change that took place in the younger son’s heart from the time he demanded his inheritance from his father to the time the father welcomed him back home. This is a major oversight.

We watch the younger son mature from a place of entitlement to a place of humility. He goes from demanding his inheritance from his father to a place in the pigsty where he is willing to take a servant’s place in his father’s household as a gracious gift from his father. Remember, the younger son says in the pigsty:

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ -Luke 15:18-19, NIV

So, I see two prodigals the character known as the younger son: 1)the pre-pigsty younger son and 2)the post-pigsty younger son. And I contend Jesus did not teach us that God embraced the pre-pigsty younger son rather he let that one go (another lesson for another time, perhaps). They were different responses to an individual presenting different character. Such ought to be our response as well. We need to be able to read character in order to apply the lessons of this parable correctly.

So, we must ask when applying this to situations with adulterous spouses:

Is this a pre-pigsty prodigal or a post-pigsty prodigal?

Here’s a few clues as to how to spot the difference:

1. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not make demands from his or her spouse.

He/she recognizes like the post-pigsty prodigal son that he does not deserve the grace of continuing in the marriage or with the spouse he wronged through committing adultery. The post-pigsty son did not run to the father demanding his place as a son seizing the family ring and mantle. No! He realized he had sinned and accepted that he did not deserve the mercy and grace his father gave him. In other words, he was no longer entitled but humble. The welcoming back to the marriage (or to working on the marriage) must be met by the understanding in the adulterous spouse that this is as extravagant and undeserving of a gift as was the father’s to the post-pigsty prodigal. If it is not, then you are dealing with a pre-pigsty prodigal spouse.

2. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not try to blame-shift or “justify” his or her sin. He or she owns the sin completely.

I wonder how this story would go if the prodigal son’s speech to the father was: “You always liked my elder brother more than me. That’s what drove me away. I just couldn’t watch one more day of you playing favorites with my elder brother!” My suspicion is that the father might have walked away at that point. Who knows? What we do know is that none of this took place in the story. The prodigal son owned his poor choices completely and did not try to blame-shift onto another person–neither onto his father or onto his elder brother. He recognized he was responsible alone for his sin. A post-pigsty prodigal spouse will recognize and take 100% ownership of his/her adulterous sin (lies included). If they do not, then you are still dealing with a pre-pigsty prodigal spouse.

3. The post-pigsty prodigal spouse does not try to minimize what he or she did.

He or she realizes the sin is against both God and his/her spouse (see vv 18). And the adulterous spouse does not try to make little of what he or she did. The post-pigsty prodigal recognized his behavior meant he deserved to be disowned as a son. That was justice, and the prodigal son recognized that. He did not approach his father with the plan to convince him that what he did wasn’t that bad! His plan was to throw himself at the mercy of his father because he realized that he deserved nothing from him after the way he had acted.

To apply this to situations with adulterous spouses, the post-pigsty adulterous spouse will recognize the just thing for the faithful spouse to do is to divorce him or her. They will not seek to convince the faithful spouse that what they did wasn’t that bad. Instead, they will take a place of humility and recognized they need mercy from their spouse for the marriage to not end in divorce. Any adulterous spouse seeking to demonstrate that their adultery (and lies) weren’t so bad is still stuck as a pre-pigsty prodigal.

So, when thinking about “The Parable of Prodigal Son,” do not miss the crucial and dynamic change that takes place in the younger son. If you miss that change, then you are apt to misapply the lesson and further enable the sinner to sin. So, next time take a pause and ask yourself about the prodigal in front of you:

Is this a pre-pigsty prodigal or a post-pigsty prodigal?

The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world in applying God’s Word aptly and justly. May those who have eyes to see, see. And may those who have ears to hear, hear. Amen.

11 thoughts on “Pre-Pigsty Prodigal OR Post-Pigsty Prodigal?”

  1. Okay, I still can’t sleep, so I will write more. X will most likely single handedly bring down my entire church. His friends still love him and hate me.
    He is prepigsty. He dresses in a suit and looks like a good, providing father with now seven children… Five sons and two daughters. He has a high paying job where he is a leader. He is the golden boy, and unstoppable.
    He listens to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and has an emotional harem the size of a city. He has a boss that thinks he owns him… But because no one can stand up to him… Yep, he will bulldoze through like a bull.
    He is a rapist and an adulterer. He did not drink in our decade together. His g/f got him drunk for the first time last year… And my home, which was once so special to me was directly above the epicenter of an earthquake in 2012. Literally.
    I felt it from a block away.
    God listens. God knows. God has the whole earth in his hands…
    … It will be a nasty mess when X comes begging back… to Jesus.
    I asked Heavenly Father, “Why Jesus; why not me?”
    My answer, ♥♥♥Only Jesus has enough love. Okay, Big Brother…
    … Let me just be the little sister under your protective shield. Your armies are mighty. I will just keep a record and maybe one day some one will learn something from the fall of that man-ass – pig.
    Now, prepigsty…

  2. Mountain Lily — I feel the same anger, pain and frustration. Praying with you that God deals with these disordered broken men who were our husbands, and that we both can move forward, “forgetting those things which are behnd.” I’m not there yet, but I have hope. Thanks for reminding me that Jesus is near, like a Big Brother.

  3. My STBX-husband cries everytime I see him. I’m not sure why he’s crying but he manages to tell me that it’s because life is so short and he’s emotionally exhausted. I’m not sure what to make of that as he should be happy having decided he’s going to marry his college girlfriend (one of many) 37 years later. I should be the one who cries, but have managed to move on with my life and could care less at this moment, if I ever love another man. Friends think his tears mean that he is now regretting his decision to end our marriage. I’m not quite convinced. I don’t think his pride would allow him to admit he’s made a mistake and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t take him back. That said, this article is an excellent analogy for me. We had a marriage counselor just before we separated who asked me what I’d change if he came back. I didn’t have an answer then and the question still haunts me. Do I think it will happen? I leave it all in God’s hands.

  4. DM, I think is one of your best posts for us survivors of adultery. If we are trying to be like God, let the spouse go out into the season of wild living. Move on, God is with us. One day I woke up n I simply do not care. I told my atty let the judge decide all. I have nothing, my when ever to be ex has literally taken everything. I may end up with nothing. But I have a home, my children are safe, they know I love them. They are sad their dad is…mean. Will my husband try his hand at asking for reconciliation? I do not believe his ego would permit such… N this post is helpful because it has armed me with the litmus test to help discern God s way. And if that time should come to pass and he is being insincere, I don’t have to get upset, I can just turn the insincerity away n be in God s peace. Thanks. I really liked this post

  5. Great article. Living this now for the secind time around. Married this same prodigal twice but dont think his heart ever really changed.

  6. I love your blog and I would like permission to share it on my blog…I was trying to choose a post to share and I came across this one (that I had not yet read)..We have met before on email so I know you to be a thoughtful person…hear me out…I have studied this parable and many interpretations of it….I personally believe that this story is illustrating the heart of the Father. I am not sure the son is fully repentive when he “turns” to go home…in fact I think he is going back to negotiate a better position though he is realistic to know he should not demand anything as a son…The point is that the Father runs (Jewish men don’t run…ahead of the crowd…who would have shamed the son) to meet the son and LOVE him unconditionally…in this response…the heart of the “turning” son is changed. I personally believe that the heart of the Father is the agent of the repentive heart in the son. Now this is where it gets hard to apply to human realities…Do I want the heart of the Father towards my ex husband….absolutely…I want the heart of the Father towards all…but that is a work God is doing in me all the days of my life here on earth…I can often struggle with this idea that we (the abandoned) are responsible to demonstrate this love so that if/when the prodigal “turns” we can win them to Christ…a very popular ministry promotes this idea…and although I agree with the ideal…I believe that it is God’s job to deal with the pre-turning, the turning, and the turned…I see it as my job to keep pressing into the Father, to lean into His love for me so that I can return that Love. I no longer fantasize that I can do the work only He can do with my prodigal.

    1. Feel free to re-post. Just link back giving me credit is all I ask.

      As to the content of my post, I agree that it is a matter of God transforming their hearts. I still maintain that it cannot take place until humility is present as I see it in the prodigal son returning. But you can see my views easily in the posting.


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