Monday, May 21, 2007

Misinterpreting Parables

When I was reading the God Delusion, Dawkins pointed out the arrogance of many Christian religions. One of the examples given was the Jehovah’s Witness belief that only 144,000 will make it to heaven. He also points to one Baptist website that asks for volunteers from the “tribulation saints” to continue hosting and updating the site after the Rapture. Both groups arrogantly believe that they will be in the chosen group. I decided to keep my eyes open for similar examples of this type of arrogance in LDS circles.
I didn’t have to wait long. Yesterday in Sunday School we were studying the parables in Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep, the woman who lost the coin, and the prodigal’s son. After discussing them for half an hour it occurred to me that with one notable exception everybody who spoke up was relating to the wrong character in the story. In the lost sheep story they were relating to the shepherd, in the coin story they were relating to the woman, and in the prodigal’s son story they were relating to the father or the good brother. All of these perspectives are not what Christ intended. In Luke 15:2 the reason for the parables is clearly established. The Scribes and Pharisees are accusing him of sinning by eating with sinners. He gives all three parable to explain why He is eating with the sinners. Christ is the shepherd and we are the one lost sheep. Christ is the woman and we are the lost coin. Christ is the prodigal and we are the son who fell away.
This struck a personal note with me because for years I resented the parable of the prodigal’s son. I always felt like I was the son who didn’t fall away and nobody was rejoicing for me. Those around me who had more obvious struggles with the church were celebrated while I was just consistently doing what I thought I was supposed to without any recognition. It was only after hearing a talk by Jeffery R. Holland in conference a few years ago that I realized that I was being arrogant and assuming that I was the “good” brother. Unless you are without sin then the only way to interpret all of these parables is as the one who fell away. If you have been looking at these parables from the perspective of the shepherd, the woman or the prodigal, seriously ask yourself if you feel qualified to step into the role that Christ was clearly saying was His.


  1. Canisunis4:32 PM

    I enjoy when you "review" your sunday school lessons, because our ward seems to be one week behind you all the time. Now I have fuel for the debate next week. Can you link me that Jeffery R. Holland Talk,,, I would love to take it with me.

    However,,, there are a few more wayward sons in my ward that may see things simmilar to your observations.

  2. My typical pattern is to write my blog post on my lunch hour. Then once I get home I update the post by adding hyperlinks to the books, articlea, and talks that I've referenced.

  3. The Prodigal Son is a great parable. It is easy to look at the wayward son and see how he squandered his estate. Do we ask ourselves are we squandering our estate or will we receive all that the father has?

    As always thanks for you insights.

  4. Anonymous11:26 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. One of the things that I've always loved about parables is their many layers of meaning. The traditional interpretation of these parables isn't necessarily wrong; in fact they teach correct principles about who we should treat our fellow man. What you have shown us is a higher level of meaning, one that illustrates our relationship to god.

  6. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with the message you have here. And I would just like to suggest a correction in terminology, as I believe it weakens your criticism when such a glaring misunderstanding is present.

    The parable is not about the Prodigal's Son as you say, but the Prodigal Son as in wasteful and reckless. Prodigal is not a monicker to reference the father nor the good brother, but the brother who squandered his inheritance. Get this one issue cleared up and I think you have a nice little statement on arrogance in the LDS Church.

    I am curious, and not at all suggesting that you should do otherwise, how you continue to remain active in the LDS church. After having read a few of your posts, it would appear that you have some insight into the institution's intentional historical deceptions and revisionist practices (that I imagine you are aware have been present in The Book of Mormon, D&C, Journal of Discourses, Temple Endowment, the recent publication of the "1830 edition" of the BOM, Joseph Smith's writings, doctrine of the origin and nature of black people, skin darkness correlated to righteousness, etc. etc. - generally anything uncomfortable or controversial that they would prefer to have swept under the rug)

    I hope this doesn't sound critical of you, just genuine curiosity as it relates to your ability to never question your belief system when confronted by such shameless acts of what would certainly be judged "poor character" were you or I the author of such misdeeds.

    Do you believe God wants the leaders of his church to lie and deceive?

    And I'm not at all talking about the regular human fallibility present in all of us, but the deliberate misleading (isn't that called "leading astray") of their flock as relates to fundamental doctrine, scripture and history.

    Perhaps some will judge this post as "bitter" - I'm sure you are familiar with the tendency to discount facts that are unpleasant for members of the church - but I ask it in all sincerity, as I have struggled with this myself.

    Do I continue to pretend that I believe what they're saying because they're "harmless old men" that portend to make a lot of people's lives better? Or do I stand for something (seems a certain recent prophet had something to say on the topic) and remain true to my own best efforts to achieve an honest understanding of the facts, regardless of where they might lead?

  7. Thanks you for the comment. I'm aware of the error but didn't feel right about correcting it for some of the same reason's you pointed out. I know it's just a blog but to me it's kind of a historical record of who I was when I wrote that post. When I wrote this I was not aware of the correct definition of prodigal. I had been told it was a position in government and that it did describe the father. Much like saying the tax collector's son.
    To the rest of your point you should probably read this post if you haven't already.
    and again, thanks for the comment.