As I may have mentioned once or twice, part of my job includes editing books and articles. As a result, I edit everything. Even when I don’t want to be editing, I find it very difficult to turn off my editing brain. I’ve learned not to correct my friends, and usually I can manage to seal my lips even for Pete, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking, “No, that’s wrong. Why can’t people (spell correctly / use correct grammar / use the right words)!?!?!?! Unfortunately, that tendency even carries over into church. Yeah, I know.
There are a number of worship songs I struggle through merely because of the wording. The music is lovely. The meaning is Biblical. The song expresses my heart. But I get hung up on the grammar or the word choices.
Last week our worship team introduced us to a new song, “Sound of Adoration,” by Jesus Culture. The first verse goes like this:
When we were lost ones
You were the Shepherd that carried us home
When we were prodigals
You ran to meet us with open arms
And we can’t hold back our praise
I should mention that in general, I really like this song. However, the first time I heard it, my brain short-circuited, right there in the middle of the worship service. They used that word. And, as is typical in the church, they used it incorrectly.
Merriam-Webster defines “prodigal” as characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure; lavish; recklessly spendthrift; yielding abundantly; luxuriant.
Dictionary.com defines it as wastefully or recklessly extravagant; giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually followed by of or with); lavishly abundant; profuse, as in nature’s prodigal resources.
And the Oxford dictionary defines prodigal as spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant; having or giving something on a lavish scale.
Did you think there was a definition missing? Please notice that none of these respected dictionaries defines “prodigal” as referring to someone who ran away from God. Why? Because that’s not what the word means. The younger son is called “prodigal” because he wasted his inheritance on rich living, not because he ran away.
That rather changes the meaning of the song, doesn’t it. The verses no longer complement one another. Prodigal isn’t another way of saying “lost ones.” And instead saying that God welcomes us back when we stray, the lyrics could be taken as saying God approves of waste and excess.
Later in the service, our pastor made the same mistake when he referred to wandering children as prodigals. Of course, maybe they are—maybe they can’t budget, and spend too much money.
Of course, my ranting won’t change anything. Christians will continue to misuse prodigal, and to be honest, I’ll understand what they’re trying to tell me. The goal of communication is met, even if it gives me heartburn. Language is always evolving. There are dozens of words whose meanings have changed over the years. If this is how prodigal is being used today, perhaps the dictionaries need to catch up.
In the meantime, thanks for listening. I feel better now.