One of the finest stories in the Bible has to be that of the prodigal son as recounted in the fifteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel. A beautiful and simple parable that demonstrates a father's patience and loving eagerness to forgive the foolishness of a rebellious but penitent son upon his return from a life of debauchery, it has become the hallmark of Christian compassion and forgiveness and remains one of the most beloved stories in all the gospels.

For those not entirely familiar with the parable, the story opens with a wealthy man's youngest son coming before him and asking to be granted his inheritance immediately rather than waiting for his father's demise to realize his wealth. The father grants his wish and endows the boy with half of his wealth, which the anxious son eagerly takes and departs with for the "wickedness" of the big city. Not surprisingly, the son goes through his fortune pretty quickly on the proverbial wine, women, and song until he finds himself destitute, forcing him to find work wherever he can. So deperate does he eventually become, in fact, that he ends up finding himself in the most degrading job a Jew could imagine—that of feeding pigs—forcing him to pine for his earlier, easy life in his father's house. Finally deciding that even the role of a servant in his father's house would be preferable to languishing in a pig's sty, the son eventually makes his way home to seek his father's forgiveness. Expecting only scorn and ridicule for squandering half his father's wealth, the son is instead surprised when his father greets him excitedly as he approaches the palace and calls for him to be given a royal robe to cover his nakedness and the fatted calf killed so they may have a feast to celebrate his return. It seems the father has been anticipating his son's safe return and so not only is he happy to forgive him, but joyfully welcomes him back into the family.

The moral of the story is, of course, that God—in the guise of the Father—is always faithful to forgive us our foolishness when we return to him in humility and repentance, a construct that has been a mainstay within Christendom for centuries. However, I often find myself wondering if this is the whole story. While I don't doubt it can be understood in its traditional context, I wonder if it doesn't hold a deeper and—perhaps—metaphysical meaning as well, especially in light of the fact that many of Jesus' other statements often seem to have metaphysical undercurrents to them. But what could that alternative interpretation be?

Let me offer another interpretation and see if it doesn't have something more to say to us than that God is always ready to forgive the truly repentant. I'm going to base my interpretation off of the writings of Eckart Tolle—a spiritual teacher I have recently been introduced to and one that I consider to be closer to understanding the essence of the Divine than most spiritual teachers I've read. While it's impossible to condense Tolle's teachings down to a few basic points, as I understand him the basis for all unhappiness and trouble in life is because our soul is at war with the ego it has generated; in effect, he maintains that we do not know permanent peace in our lives because we are in conflict with ourselves. While I don't pretend to completely grasp all of his points, my reading is that as a soul generates an ego—which I understand to be another term of the basic human personality—into the realm of physicality, this ego naturally experiences itself to be a separate entity or being (as opposed to being a part of a larger divine consciousness as the soul experiences in the spiritual realm). This sense of separation manifests itself in the form of fear, which itself eventually manifests into guilt, regret, depression, melancholia and resentment if "past based" and stress, anxiety, dread, and worry if "future based"—either of which produces great turmoil in one's life. Additionally, since the ego fears its own destruction, it fights for survival by using a number of mechanisms such as drama, anger, victimhood, self-righteousness and many other "identities" around which it can feed upon in an effort to keep from being, as it sees it, absorbed by the higher self.

So what does this have to do with the story of the prodigal son? Well, let's imagine for a moment that the Father in this story is not some external deity as is traditionally taught, but is instead a generating or "feeder" soul that has generated multiple egos into the physical realm so that it (and, by extension, God) can experience itself in its complete and perfect totality. Of course, that would make the prodigal son just one of a countless number of such egos, and one who, at least in this instance, wants to shed the moral nature inherent to the soul that generated it and strike out on its own. In other words, the ego wants to be an independent entity in its own right capable of existing entirely apart from the Divine consciousness that bred it.

Now this naturally has a number of consequences, the chief among them being the ego's inability to handle the minute-by-minute reality it creates for itself, thereby causing itself great torment. Finally recognizing that it cannot exist apart from the soul that generated it and realizing the tremendous pain trying to separate itself from its soul has caused, the ego comes to its senses and tries to reintegrate itself back with its "higher self" or original soul self. It doesn't cease to exist as an ego, of course, but finds itself capable of experiencing peace only by recognizing its true self as that of divine soul, at which point it becomes conscious or, by some definitions, enlightened.

So what's the point of the story? Obviously, it's that in failing to recognize our true nature—our "real" self as a loving extension of the divine mind—we experience that which God is not—namely, fear (along with all the various manifestations fear generates). The rebellious ego, or prodigal son in this case, had to find this out the hard way, but to its credit it finally did discover this truth and eventually returned to its source to find healing.

But wait, there's more! In the Bible Jesus talks about the elder son as well—the "good" one that didn't rebel but always behaved himself—and described him as becoming angry when his Father took his rebellious brother back into his good graces so easily. He felt it unfair that the "bad" son was able to be restored without being punished for selfishly wasting half his father's fortune and also appeared to be annoyed with the degree of joy his father exhibited upon his arrival. Obviously, he was feeling a bit jealous, especially since he had never felt similar gratitude from his Father despite his many years of faithful obedience. His Father, always patient it seems, gently informs his elder son that he could have had that level of relationship with him anytime he wished, thereby implying that the son had never sought it.

So if my prodigal son is the rebellious ego, what does the "good" son represent? I maintain that he, too, is another ego, but one that choose not to test the waters and stayed close to the generating soul. However, I suspect in considering the tone of the interchange that the "good" soul may have been experiencing its own form of torture in that in never striking out on its own, it never experienced much of consequence. Worse, it may have considered itself "better" than the other egos, which it used as its own form of ego survival mechanism. In essence, then, the "good" son was no better than the "bad" son; it simply developed a different survival tactic—one based on the presumption of being "godly" but denying the power thereof. In fact, it was just as much in rebellion as the prodigal, only it was able to cut itself off from its father without leaving the comfort and self-assurance of his home. Ultimately, he may even have been the "sicker" of the two egos, especially in light of the fact that the prodigal eventually came to recognize his wretched condition while it is implied that the other son did not.

So to sum this all up, I maintain that the prodigal son story is nothing less than an illustration of the unconditional love the higher or soul self maintains for each of the ego/personalities it generates, regardless of how much darkness the ego chooses to live in, as well as the joy it feels when that errant and unconscious ego finally becomes "conscious". It is simply metaphor for the parent/child interaction between the soul and the resident egos it generates and how the "higher self" is always looking to bring order and wholeness to the creation in a patient and compassionate manner in much the same way any wise parent would do with a rebellious child. Of course, the story says nothing about those prodigals that fail to return home or the "good" sons that never come to understand their true relationship with the Divine, but they each remain the Father's beloved sons and daughters for they are a part of himself. Like a human parent, he may grieve when they wander into darkness and feel their pain when they put themselves through the consequences of their own unconscious decisions, but even then he is no less their father just as they are no less his offspring.

I guess it really is possible to read more into the Bible than is intended. Perhaps that is what makes it such a miraculous book.