You are currently viewing How to Forgive a Recovering Idiot (And Why You Must)

How to Forgive a Recovering Idiot (And Why You Must)

Any story of a recovering idiot encourages me because that is the story of my life, too.


One of the best-known in the gospels is the parable of the prodigal son, and it shows us a lot about the character of God.


This story's main characters are a son who chose foolishly and sinned grievously, a father who loved unconditionally and forgave, and an elder brother who resented his dad's mercy and grace.


Sometimes, we risk taking the stories of Jesus too far in our applications. But a couple of things are clearly taught in this parable.


First, when we fail (and we all do), if we are willing to own it and repent, it’s never too late to turn back and change.


Second, you can never out-sin God or go beyond His ability to redeem and fully restore.


A little background. According to Jewish law, the oldest son inherited two-thirds of the father’s estate after his father’s death, and the younger son one-third.


But the younger one demanded his portion of his inheritance while his father was still alive, which was considered dishonorable. Essentially, he was saying, “Pop, you’re taking too long to die, and I don’t want to wait anymore!”


To the astonishment of the older brother, the father agreed to divvy up his possessions before his death and gave his youngest son what he wanted.


The audience listening to Jesus sat shocked and disgusted by this son’s actions.


As the story progresses, however, the audience would have been pleased that the entitled brat ended up penniless and disgraced. Jesus described him feeding pigs and eating pig slop to survive. Undoubtedly, there were a lot of heads nodding in satisfaction at this point in the tale.


They probably expected the story to end with the obvious lesson: Don’t screw your father, or you’ll end up with a sow reaping what you sow.


But Jesus added what every great story has—a plot twist.


Eventually, the son came to his senses and decided to return home. He realized how stupid he’d been and hoped his father would take him back as a lowly servant. He was counting on the goodness of his father.


At this point, most of those listening to Jesus probably thought, “Well, perhaps the young man learned his lesson, but there are still consequences for your failures! I wouldn’t take the wretched kid back, but at least he’s going to live the rest of his life sleeping in the bunkhouse.”


I think Jesus, the master storyteller, allowed a pregnant pause and leaned in a bit before continuing as he went in a shocking direction.


First, he described the father as looking for his son’s return. That bordered on craziness to His listeners.


Second, when the dad saw his son on the horizon, he ran toward his boy with tears in his eyes and joy in his heart.


Everyone was unnerved by that part of Jesus’ story. No dignified and respectable man runs anywhere, and he sure as hades would not run toward his errant and insubordinate son.


But then things were about to get even more uncomfortable.


At the tale’s climax, the father embraced his pig-stinking son, welcomed him home with honor, gave him a pair of designer jeans, some Hey Dudes for his feet, and then threw a BBQ!


He provided a new wardrobe for the son who should have been forever cursed.


He gave a feast for the one who should have been beaten with a rod, not hugged.


He organized a party celebrating the rebellious kid who deserved shame and rejection, not love and acceptance.


I bet even the twelve disciples were gawking in disbelief at this over-the-top narrative. Peter was probably ticked off, and Judas was sickened by yet another “greasy grace” story of Jesus.


And it is a story of redemption, restoration, reconciliation, and renewal. (Not unlike the story of Peter’s merciful reinstatement found in John 21, by the way.)


In this story, the son eventually recognized his foolishness and repented.


The father forgave his son and then fully restored him. For the record, the prodigal son didn’t have to earn the father’s love, prove he was truly repentant, or make any amends. Dad believed the best and embraced and accepted his son without conditions.


Sadly, the oldest son, representing the hyper-religious Pharisees of the time, resented the actions of the gracious father and refused to participate in the restoration party.


Of course, the big idea in Jesus’ story is about the love of our Heavenly Father, who never gives up on us and always loves us and welcomes us home no matter what.


But we also see the character of God, who is all about restoration. In fact, to forgive is to restore relationship. It is to embrace the offender with open arms and a generous, merciful heart, just as our forgiveness by Jesus bridges the relational gap between us and the Father.


So, here’s an application for all of us to consider.


If you’ve been hurt, rejected, or abandoned, and the one who sinned against you confesses his sin and humbly repents, then you must forgive as you’ve been forgiven.


What’s more, to be like our Father, you must bless those who once cursed you and do all you can to restore the relationship. (Side note: there’s no wiggling out of blessing others. Jesus said we even get to bless even our enemies.)


What a beautiful picture of Jesus’ heart toward us. The father saw his wayward son, was filled with compassion for him rather than judgment, ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him (Luke 15:20).


And then, because the “lost son was found,” the father declared a family holiday and partied with the best wine and meat available.


In case you missed it, hugging, kissing, and partying are beautiful metaphors for restored intimacy and renewed relationship.


So, maybe, like me, you’re wondering . . .


Why aren’t we Christians better at embracing the dirty, rotten scoundrels who repent?


Why are we sometimes resentful of the mercy and goodness of God to the underserving?


Why do we demand the offenders prove they’ve truly changed before we restore them and throw them a party?


Here’s something else to consider that is at the heart of the gospel: repentance mandates forgiveness, and genuine and sincere forgiveness results in reconciliation and restored relationship—man to God, man to man.


Forgiveness is to “let go” (literally to untie the knot) of our right for revenge and judgment against our offender.


To forgive is to accept the humble and contrite of heart. It is to believe the best about others despite our fear of getting hurt again.


And genuine, godly forgiveness results in reconciliation, and reconciliation means restoration of relationship.


Please keep in mind that mercy (not getting what we deserve) and grace (getting blessed with what we don’t deserve) get convoluted when we add our requirements and a list of conditions for the sinner. That’s precisely what the Pharisees did, which bothered Jesus a lot.


And don’t forget, in John 21, Jesus’ only requirement for Peter to be fully restored to relationship and ministry was love.


“Peter, do you love me?”


“Yes, Lord, I absolutely do.”


“Good, then get back to work and take care of my sheep.”


We must remember that the Father once ran to us when we were at our worst, He embraced us, and kissed us when we were filthy and utterly depraved jerks who deserved rejection, not restoration.


Is this treatment of the wayward fair?




That was the argument of the elder son.


Yet this is the heart of the Father and the way of Jesus.



Peter: Lord, when someone sins against me, and they break my trust,

how many times do I have to forgive him?

What’s a reasonable number?

Once? Twice? If I like them, maybe seven times?

Jesus: Pete, here’s the answer, and you’re not going to like it:

It would be best if you stopped counting because forgiveness is unlimited.

Matthew 18:21-22 (BPV)


Kurt Bubna

Kurt W. Bubna has published seven books, is an internationally recognized blogger, conference and retreat speaker, as well as an experienced life and leadership coach. Bubna has over forty years of experience working with individuals, teams, and a wide variety of business and non-profit organizations.