DiM | “Prodigal” by Sidewalk Prophets

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

September 1, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Prodigal” by Sidewalk Prophets which currently sits at #16 on 20theCountdownMagazine’s top 20.

I thought I was going to love this song. I love the parable of the Prodigal son, the message of forgiveness and restoration. I really wanted to love this song. Sadly, this song completely misses the parable… even missing the definition of prodigal. This song gets a disapproval rating from me, not because its message is particularly aberrant, but because of the way it mishandled/misrepresented the parable of the prodigal son. I’m sure some will disagree with that decision, but after watching the video, I can come to no other conclusion. The song mishandled the text.

Official Music Video

I’m going to take a moment to do something I normally don’t do and that is to discuss the video itself. On the one hand, I find it interesting and potentially helpful when a band makes a theatrical music video with the intent of portraying the meaning of the song. Sadly, this video actually confuses the message of the song in some key ways that aren’t reflected in the lyric. The video took a “tugging on the heart-strings” approach rather than an “expound on the Scriptural meaning” one.

Prodigal ≠ Lost Runaway. It’s frustrating, really, that the writers of the song and the video would just assume they knew what prodigal means. Since the chorus is “running like a prodigal”, the noun definition is: a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift. The video doesn’t show a prodigal, it shows a runaway lost in the woods.

Prodigal daughter? No, this isn’t about sexism… the parable (we’ll look at it below) is of a son who demanded his inheritance from his father prematurely, and then squandered it in extravagant living. I’m not saying that the illustration cannot apply to a woman in our culture, but greater care must be given to clearly demonstrate the parable being referenced to achieve that goal. In seeking to make the emotional connection to a daughter, the video has diluted what the parable conveys, leaving a thought that would be better conveyed by the parable of the lost sheep.

Single Father? In the parable, the father is our Heavenly Father. This video presents a single father, no mother, not even a picture of one. There is no sibling, and some of the dramatization even suggests a panicked worry or anxiety on the part of the father. The video skips over the sin (the prodigal part of the story) with a mere fading away of the daughter from her bed. Again, the message has been diluted to simply convey a message of reconciliation. The message of reconciliation is a good one, but there is far more to the parable of the prodigal son.

On a good note, I really like how they captured her return on the long road to the house, and the embrace of the father. That was warming. There is much more to the story.

Lyrics (via KLove)

Prodigal

It’s been a long time since you felt peace
In the valley you made where you’re not meant to be
Where the shame throws shadows on you
But don’t you forget

That you’re headed to more
But you’ve settled for less
Don’t buy the lie “it’s as good as it gets”
The same feet that left you lost and alone
Are the very same feet that can bring you back home

Wherever you are, whatever you did
It’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
Your Father will meet you with arms open wide
This is where your heart belongs
Come running like a prodigal

There will be nights, when you hear whispers
Of the life you once knew, don’t let it linger
Cause there’s a grace that falls upon you
Don’t you forget
In the places your weak
He is very strong
Don’t ever believe “you don’t deserve love”
The same God that protects you when you’re lost and alone
Is the very same God that is calling you home

Wherever you are, whatever you did
It’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end

Your Father will meet you with arms open wide
This is where your heart belongs
Come running like a prodigal

Oh…
Let your life be made new
Oh…
As you come into view
Your Father’s not waiting, no he’s running too
He’s running straight to you

Wherever you are, whatever you did
It’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end

Your Father will meet you with arms open wide
This is where your heart belongs
Come running like a prodigal

Publishing: © 2015 Dayspring Music Publishing, LLC, Run Run Milo, Pencil Prophet Publishing (BMI) / CentricSongs, 2 Hour Songs (SESAC) (Adm. by Music Services) Produced by Seth Mosley for Full Circle Music
Writer(s): Dave Frey, Ben McDonald, Seth Mosley

Discussion

We’ve already covered the problem of using the prodigal incorrectly. But seriously… that’s a problem.

Verse 1. So with the reference to being lost in a valley we made but don’t belong, I almost think the writer(s) have read the parable. That feeling is gone when we get to the next line saying we’re headed for more but have settled for less… huh? Repentance is a change of direction… the prodigal isn’t headed for more before repentance… the prodigal is headed for stealing the pods of food from swine. That isn’t settling for less… that is the wages of sin. That is what we deserve, by the way, what our sin has earned us. However, the message of repentance and trusting in the One who has paid the full price of our sin by His finished work on the cross, is that we can find forgiveness at the foot of the cross and be made whole. When we refuse to address repentance properly, clearly, biblically… we muddle the message in emotional platitudes.

Chorus. It is true that no matter the sin, the offense, the transgression, God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness is sufficient. The parable includes betrayal of the son demanding his inheritance prematurely and squandering it all on selfish, sinful living… he earned his place among the swine… the song glosses over all of that. And… again… don’t come running like a prodigal. Instead, come running in humble repentance. Now, some will argue “but that’s what the song is saying… run back like the prodigal son did”… well, I’d agree if there weren’t already so many compromises on the parable. I take issue with the hook of the song being a call to be anything like the prodigal side of the son… he left his father a prodigal, he came home penitent, hoping to live as a servant.

Verse 2. Are we even in the same parable anymore? I hate to beat a dead horse, but the further we get away from the parable of the prodigal son, the less I’m okay with the misuse of the word prodigal.

Bridge. Your father’s not waiting, he’s running too. Well, yes and no. This is the line that makes me want to sit down with the writers and say, “don’t you think there’s a better parable to convey this message without butchering it just for a clever hook?”. The parable of the lost sheep wonderfully conveys this notion. I mean… it’s in the same chapter of the Gospel According to Luke. Now, in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father is waiting. Watching and waiting for His son to come home. Our Heavenly Father knows exactly when that will be, and He is eternal and exists outside of time (which He created)… but He also acts within time for our benefit and His Glory. Upon seeing his son, the father in the story runs out to greet his son. Our heavenly Father celebrates more over the return of one sheep that was lost than He does over the 99 that never left the fold. Again, that would have been a better parable to leverage for what this song is trying to convey. This song is a classic example of choosing form over function.

Luke 15:11-32 (ESV) | The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Sin, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. This is such a wonderful parable… what this song did to this parable is horrible. What the video does to this parable truly upsets me.

Conclusion

As much as I wanted to like this song, I simply cannot. The danger here isn’t so much that the song conveys a bad message, it’s that so much damage is done to the parable it claims to reflect. How often does your Pastor preach through the parable of the Prodigal son? How often is it covered in your children’s church? Even if you are on a solid “read through the Bible in a year” programs, how often do you read this parable? Once. Now, how often will this song be played in a week on Christian radio? Given its placement on the Top20 chart, I’d say dozens of times. If it breaks into the top 10 it will likely play at least every other hour during the day. The truth is that what we listen to routinely affects how we think, and when we are listening to a Christian radio station and we hear a song that repeats the word “prodigal” we let down our guards because we think we know the parable and can trust what is being sung. Stay alert, brothers and sisters, and be on guard.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

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