In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (better known as the Prodigal Son). All of the parables are about same thing–“lost people”. What is a lost person? It is defined by the company that Jesus is keeping when he tells these stories, “now tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Him”. Let’s ponder what it means to be lost.
In this case, being lost is not being locationally challenged. No directions or GPS will fix it. In each story somebody has lost something: a shepherd, a woman, and a father. All of these represent God. God has lost people. They were His Creation. He designed them. He knew them before the even existed. He had plans for them. He loved them.
They are not lost in the sense that God doesn’t know where they are. He is near to them all of the time. He knows their situation and their pain. He still loves them. But these people are on the wrong side of God’s Law, and He doesn’t compromise on that. Still, one would think that this is an easy fix for an all-powerful being like God, but it is not. I can’t say that I understand the restrictions that God puts on His own power in this situation, but some can be inferred. He has made people to be eternal beings, and He is going to respect that. He also made them to be creatures of free will, and that is where the complications begin. Whatever modifications the original sin of Adam and Eve made to the human race, the outcome was that our “free-will” was no longer truly free. Our ability to freely know and love God is deeply damaged to the extent that no one is able to do it anymore. It takes a measured intervention by God to bring a person around to repentance of sin, a desire for God to save him or her, and a trust that God has saved him or her.
What God actually does to a person to bring them to faith, and why He doesn’t do whatever it takes to “find” everyone remains a mystery. A frustrating mystery for my part. Many people remain lost. Maybe the answer to the nature of God’s self-imposed limitation is found by looking at the other side–the perspective of a lost person.
There are many ways that a lost person is or can be lost. For sure they do not know their Creator. They have lost a sense of what is true. They may not know their purpose in life. They even be confused about their gender or created sexuality. They don’t know what is going to happen when they die. They are not totally lost to God at the moment, but they are heading that way. Without intervention, they will end up eternally forsaken by God. Then they will be completely and permanently lost. Is God’s effort to “find” them limited by their intellectual arguments, their embrace of their lostness, their love for sin, or the extent of the damage that sinful nature has caused? Maybe it is something else entirely.
The three parables end with happy endings. Everything that is lost is found. The first two parables end in a similar:
7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:7 (ESV)
We don’t need to doubt how God feels about the lost. He really misses them. Unfortunately, it would appear that not every prodigal comes home.
Can somebody who is no longer lost help? Jesus wasn’t telling this story to solely explain his purpose in hanging around with “sinners”. He was encouraging the Pharisees and scribes to care about the lost themselves, rather than just judge them. We were all “lost”, so nobody is better or self-righteous. We may not be able to fix the problem of being spiritually lost, but our input can be a tool for God to use. Prayer, a loving example, being a safe source to discuss doubts without judgment, maybe even asking tough questions can be helpful. So try to be helpful. You must accept, however, that the power to truly change things is out of your hands.