Should God give us good things because we are morally good? Are we confused when good things happen to people who behave horribly?
Timothy Keller wrote the following in The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.
“Here, then, is Jesus’s radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because it is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of father in his own life.
If, like the elder brother, [in the prodigal son story] you seek to control God through your obedience, then all your morality is just a way to use God to make him give you the things in life you really want.
One of the ironies of the parable [the prodigal son parable] is now revealed. The younger son’s flight from the father was crashingly obvious. He left the father literally, physically, and morally. Though the older son stayed at home, he was actually more distant and alienated from the father than his brother, because he was blind to his true condition.
. . .
Because the elder brother is more blind to what is going on, being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.
“How dare you say that?” is how religious people respond if you suggest their relationship with God isn’t right. “I’m there every time the church doors are open.”
Jesus, says, in effect, “That doesn’t matter.”
No one had ever taught anything like this before.