What is morality, anyway, and who decides—and why should anyone care?

Some people have a vague conception that morality is really just a bunch of arbitrary rules made up long ago by pious religionists. Without realizing it, I held this concept myself for many years. I saw morality as a fence, a set of rules that divided the good people from the bad. If one obeyed the rules, he was on the good side. But one imagined how much fun there was over on the other side of this fence!

I remember feeling confused by Jesus' parable of the prodigal son and his family (see Luke 15:11–32). The prodigal had broken moral laws with his "riotous living," but then had returned to find his father's love for him still intact, illustrating God's indestructible love for man. I never begrudged the prodigal his father's great love and forgiveness, shown by the welcome-home celebration that his father threw for him. But it always bothered me that the older son—the good son—didn't receive some kind of extra reward for having been good and obedient all along.

One week when this parable was featured in the weekly Bible Lesson in the Christian Science Quarterly, I stopped to ponder the father's reply to the elder son's angry comment that his father had never had a celebration for him. "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine," the father said. I noted that the father went out to his elder son and entreated him to come in to his brother's party, just as he had gone out to meet the prodigal on his way home. It suddenly dawned on me that the elder brother had indeed been with his father all along. He had been secure, loved, and living in abundance, all the while his younger brother had been feeding the swine, homeless, and going hungry, all alone. For the first time, the true sense of morality began to dawn upon me.

Enjoy 1 free Sentinel article or audio program each month, including content from 1898 to today.

Father-Mother God is with me
November 11, 1996

We'd love to hear from you!

Easily submit your testimonies, articles, and poems online.