Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Heaven and Hell: The Parable of the Loving Father and the Judgmental Son
Heaven and Hell: The Parable of the Loving Father and the Judgmental Son Todd Compton Recently I taught the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in priesthood meeting and was, as always, impressed by its beauty, simplicity, and profundity. It seemed to me as if this was the central passage in the New Testament, with its story of sin, repentance, compassion, forgiveness, heavenly joy; and with its almost frightening analysis of the op-posites of compassion, forgiveness, and joy. It seemed as infinitely beautiful as it was infinitely terrible. This parable has often been misunderstood, especially the "obedient son" who stayed home and "kept" his father's commandments. Some have taken comfort in this older son, feeling that if you stay home and keep the commandments, you will be better off than the person who sins and repents. But to Christ, the men and women who repent have equal status with those who feel they have not sinned, and people who feel they have not sinned are in fact in special danger. The older son symbolizes the Pharisee in the context of Christ's telling of the parable; on a more timeless level, he is an evocative symbol of eternal damnation, a damnation tragic and terrible because it is self-inflicted. To understand fully this parable, it is important first of all to look at the teaching context in which Jesus told it.1 In the beginning of chapter 1. My concern here is to interpret the parable as it is found in Luke, not to analyze the strata of oral tradition and editorial accretion in Luke 15, along with Luke's recasting of his raw material. But we should touch on these issues briefly, at least. This parable is found only in Luke, so there is no need to compare different synoptic versions. Scholars often see the settings of the parables as later accretions, reflecting the outlook of the early church after Jesus' death, rather than the actual environment in which Jesus told the parable. See Eta Linne-mann, Parables of Jesus, Introduction and Exposition (London: SPCK, 1966), 44-45. However, it is generally accepted that the historical Jesus did tell the parable of the Prodigal Son as a response to criticisms of Pharisees when Jesus shared table fellowship with sinners. Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 2d rev. ed., trans. S. H. Hooke (New York: Scribners, 1972, orig. 1947), 124,131; Linnemann, Parables of Jesus, 69, 73; Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 96. More generally, it is widely accepted that the parables in the gospels are the teachings of the historical Jesus; in fact, they are a large part of our evidence for the historical Jesus, revealing a teacher of compassionate moral vision and transcendent poetic and narrative skill.