I suspect that many of us are suffering from an age-old malady that had its origin during the exodus when God saved his people from Egyptian bondage. When we study the history of God’s people from then until now, it’s painfully obvious that the malady still lingers.
The disease we’re referring to is commonly called backsliding. We find the word first used in scripture in Jeremiah 3:6 and a few verses that follow. Studying those verses for context, it’s clear that the prophet uses the term to describe the apostasy of God’s people, the Israelites, as they turned from God to worship idols.
We’re not suggesting that people today suffers from wholesale apostasy as Israel did. On the contrary, I believe that the level of backsliding is rare among believers in Christ today. But that is not to say that backsliding is not found within our ranks. It certainly is, but at a lower level.
There are two levels of backsliding; idolatry, the highest level; and, a consistent pattern of sin over time, the lowest level. The backsliders among us are almost exclusively caught up in this lowest level where habitual sin is such a routine way of life that they are unaware of their condition in the eyes of God. So, what is their lot in life?
Scripture gives us a clear answer to that question. Consider these passages: “the wicked shall not be unpunished,” and “the expectation of the wicked is wrath,” found in Proverbs 11:21 and 23, respectively. So backsliders can look forward to punishment in some form as long as they remain in that condition.
We can see this clearly in Jesus’ parable recorded in Luke 15:11-32, commonly called the parable of the prodigal son, who decided to abandon his father’s house with his inheritance and follow a path of immoral, riotous, extravagant, wasteful living. Eventually his inheritance was exhausted; he spiraled downward and experienced the promised “punishment.”
In keeping with his permissive will, God allowed the son to experience calamity, distress and want in life as a result of a famine in the land. His circumstances became so critical that he was forced into servitude. In order to survive, he was hired to feed pigs and found himself tempted to eat the same food the pigs were eating. His future was looking mighty bleak.
But, things started looking better when he invoked God’s plan for solving his problem. The good news is that this plan is still available to all of today’s backsliders. It’s not a big mystery; we’re all familiar with it; it’s simply repentance; expressing sorrow for our backsliding and vowing never to fall into its trap again in life. The son repented and thereafter lived “the life of Riley.”
To wrap this up, let’s take one last look at this parable with emphasis on the reaction of the father rather than on the actions of the son. The father symbolizes God, and his reaction to the backsliding of his people in today’s context.
God will often give us what we want to teach us a lesson — that often our wants work to our disadvantage.
He will observe us from afar, never totally abandoning us, waiting for us to come to our senses. When we finally do, he accepts us with open arms and at no time does he confront us with our sin. He simply forgives, showers us with his love, and gives us the benefit of his favor. God is forever faithful and trustworthy.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles. Pastor’s Corner is a monthly religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture to life today. The column appears on the first Thursday of each month in the Wave and its website, www.wavenewspapers.com