Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Return of the Prodigal Son” as Want to Read:
The Return of the Prodigal Son
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Return of the Prodigal Son

4.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,810 Ratings  ·  580 Reviews
A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell.

In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt's depiction of the powerful Gospel story,
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published April 1st 1992 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 1991)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Return of the Prodigal Son, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Return of the Prodigal Son

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Father Nouwen's book forever changed me and the way I understood this parable of forgiveness, love and our relationship with God, the Father. I first read this book in 2001 and was amazed to discover the richness and depth within the simple story told by Jesus, and also grateful to be introduced in such a profound way to Rembrandt's famous painting which adds layers of meaning to this amazing parable about the vital aspects of Relationship.

Henri J.M. Nouwen—priest, author, teacher, renown publi
Oct 22, 2015 Laysee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star-books

"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds" - W. Shakespeare

The return of the prodigal son is a homecoming story that is as old as the hills and familiar to most. It is in essence a story about the breadth, depth, and height of a father's love. This time, the story is touchingly retold in a fresh new way alongside a famous painting of the same parable.

Its author, Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (1932-1996,) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest, a pastoral psychologist, and professor. He tau
Sep 11, 2014 Meghan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who don't usually like touchy-feely Christian books, but ought to give this one a try anyway
Shelves: favorites
Using Jesus’ well-known parable and Rembrandt’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen performs a thorough and meaningful close-read, expounding on the spiritual roles of Father, Brother, and Son (or, more appropriately, Parent, Sibling, and Child, since Nouwen does not dwell on gender specificity). Divided into three main sections, the book describes each of these figures, drawing further insight from Rembrandt’s painting and corresponding events in the painter’s life. The discussio ...more
So much of the time it feels like Nouwen is writing about my life as much as his own. So far, this is yet another example.

Beautiful book that for me needed to be soaked up slowly. 3-4 months for me to read 140 pages. After finishing, and claiming no expertise in the matter, I'm going to say all pastors should read this book.

Why? Because of this conclusion: "Our community is full of wayward and angry children, and being surrounded by peers gives a sense of solidarity. Yet the longer I am part of
M.G. Bianco
Mar 23, 2014 M.G. Bianco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, non-fiction
I received this book as a gift from a dear friend. And it may be one of the more important books I've read year to date. There are some books that a person reads, and it is just the book that person needs to read at that moment. This was one of those books for me. It may not be the book someone else needs to read today, but it will probably be a book you will need to read someday.

Nouwen's book is simultaneously autobiographical and devotional. But, it is more than just a devotional book on the B
Marie Notcheva
The Futile, Powerless God of Henri Nouwen

"Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God." – Henri Nouwen

The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 used to be my favorite Bible passage. Until a contemplative mystic priest named Henri Nouwen ruined it for me.

Several years ago, I wrote about my brief en
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Jun 03, 2008 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
The heart of the Bible is the parable of the Prodigal Son and Henri Nouwen's book on this parable is by far one of the best. I can read it over and over again and feel like I am reading it for the first time in my life. If you want to know what type of God we have in Christianity, then begin with this book and you will be proud that you are a Christian!
Peter Blair
This book has some crazily accurate descriptions of what a perverse need for human affirmation feels like, and how reception of God's love is the answer. The call to move from a son who receives love to a father who gives is also really striking. It was really interesting, and helpful, to see a treatment of the story that cast the younger son's severance from the father in terms of looking for affirmation wrongly and so-called 'cold' or 'spiritual' vices instead of lust.
Dani Stigliano
Apr 06, 2016 Dani Stigliano rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, completos, dios
"Es mucho mas desalentador tener que curarme de mis rasgos de hijo mayor que de los de hijo menor. Enfrentado aquí con la imposibilidad de autorredención, ahora entiendo las palabras de Jesus a Nicodemo: 'Que no te cause, pues, tanta sorpresa lo que te he dicho: Tenes que nacer de nuevo'. Es decir, algo tiene que ocurrir que yo no puedo hacer que ocurra. Yo no puedo volver a nacer; es decir, no puedo hacerlo con mis propias fuerzas, con mi mente, con mis ideas. No me cabe ninguna duda de todo es ...more
Dec 18, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nouwen is that person who can see something that's become too familiar in a new way, and therein lies the value of his writings. The Prodigal Son is one of the best known of Jesus' teachings, but Nouwen uses an examination of Rembrandt's rendition of the parable to analyze all of the characters involved and ask if, maybe, we miss the point of the parable, especially in the way that we tend to only identify with the prodigal himself.

Along with profound thoughts on the parable, the book is full of
I read this book the first time over a decade ago and recently reread it. This is vintage Nouwen. In this book, Nouwen reflects on Rembrandt's painting The Return of the Prodigal Son and uses it as a window to look deeper into Jesus's favorite parable. Nouwen helps us examine in the lost younger son, in the judgmental older son, and in the loving embrace of the father. Each of the sons are recapitulated in Jesus--the true younger son who leaves his home with the Father to welcome us back; and ...more
Jul 30, 2009 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish that I could give this book 10 stars. This and the Pursuit of God are my two favorite 'spiritual books'. I wish for one day that I could crawl into Henri Nouwen's head and experience God as he does. That would indeed be a wonder.

I relate to this book because I think in my life's journey that I have been the older brother (very self-righteous) and the younger brother...broken over the ways I have hurt others and completed broken from the things I have done; both sons so in need of Grace.

T Taylor
Aug 19, 2012 T Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rich and complex, Nouwen explores Rembrandt's mysterious painting of the prodigal son and father, while discussing the deep meaning of God's love.
Mar 14, 2016 Cherrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly relatable struggles that I have gone through, am going through, and probably will go through for the rest of my life here on earth. I think it's incredibly difficult to (1) return home and accept the Father's love, (2) let go of resentment and jadedness in order celebrate, and (3) be compassionate without expectations and love without bounds. Nouwen's dissection of Rembrant's painting and of the parable are spot on. Great read that leads to great reflections.
"Can I accept that I am worth
Marc Baldwin
Jan 14, 2015 Marc Baldwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an amazing look at the story of the prodigal son. I decided to read it based on the mention of it during a sermon series at church and indeed, it offered me a very unique look at the story from perspectives I had never considered before. There is so much more to the story than just the return of a wayward son. As a Christian, it spurred me to consider my own relationship with the Father, added to my understanding of unconditional love, and helped me understand the call to fill the r ...more
Oct 30, 2014 Faith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"As I look from God's welcoming love into the world, I discover that God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all woman and men their uniqueness without ever comparing."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into his joy...."

"In the conte
Feb 24, 2010 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Paul by: Rick Hatem
This book must be among the best of Henri Nouwen's writing. In it he gives some very deep and penetrating insight into the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and its illustration in Rembrandt's painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen shares with the reader the meaning he found for his own spiritual journey in studying the painting; how it illuminated the ways he was like the younger son, the elder son and how he felt called to be more like the father. Readers may see similar ...more
Feb 11, 2013 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On a handful of occasions, a work of art has riveted my attention. As a college student, a painting in the Butler Museum of Art titled "In Flanders Fields Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow" by Robert Vonnoh had that effect as I pondered young girls picking scarlet red poppies in what had once been a killing field. For Nouwen, it was a portion of Rembrandt's painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son that had this same effect. Eventually he spent several days meditating upon the original and ...more
Jim B
An astounding book. Nouwen was doubly perceptive. His insight into the images of Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son will stay with me for the rest of my life, and his use of Rembrandt's painting, "The Return of the Prodigal" led me further into the parable, and gave me a deep love for Rembrandt's painting (which had been my least favorite painting of that subject).

Nouwen was able to do for the elder brother what I have not heard any preacher do: he opened my eyes to identify with the elder bro
May 22, 2009 Walter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have now read this book three times, twice about 20 years ago and again now. I believe that I have matured a good deal and can therefore appreciate it even more. I remember being awed and a bit overwhelmed by it in my youth; I am totally awed and overwhelmed by it now. Simply put, it is a powerful work of spiritual insight and development.

Foremost among the things that make this book so incredible and indelible in its impact is the honesty of its author, Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Catholic priest wh
Nov 23, 2013 Phil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian
This is another re-read as befits a spiritual classic such as this book. The premise of the book is Nouwen's reflections on Rembrandt's painting, the Prodigal Son. Nouwen reflects on the spiritual roles and significance of the younger brother, the older brother and the father. He charts his understanding of these roles in his own life as he considers what it means to be forgiven, how one's own self-rightousness can blind one to God's grace and how one can become more like the Father's self-givin ...more
Feb 20, 2012 Gretchen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stopped-reading
I feel as though I should like this intimate personal reflection on the parable of the prodigal son and Rembrandt's visual interpretation of it by esteemed Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen, but it annoys me no end. I can't finish it. Nouwen seems so desperately needy and personally overwrought, he lacks enough critical distance to say anything illuminating for the outsider. I confess I don't have much patience with the "I'm not worthy of love/I'm unable to accept love" line, at least when people pr ...more
Rachel Dawson
Feb 01, 2016 Rachel Dawson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-rad-reads, faith
This book... so good. I've heard (and been wrecked by) the whole point of this story in that both brothers are lost, even though only one ventures far away, but this book just went so much deeper than that. As somebody who genuinely loves and appreciates art, I couldn't get enough of all the meaning Nouwen pulled out of the Rembrandt painting. I always felt like the older son was more me (always been the homebody, the rule-follower, the "good one") but the way Nouwen described the lostness of bo ...more
Todd Buegler
Apr 15, 2016 Todd Buegler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book as a part of an educational program I was a part of. It was completely transformational. It totally changed the way I understand the story of the Prodigal son, and for that matter, the way that I understand God's gift of grace.

Este libro es muy bueno. Me gustó mucho. Creo que va al grano de la cuestión, en forma simple y clara. Desarma y le da vida a una historia fascinante. Logró que lo etiquete como favorito apenas termino de leerlo. Pero también lo marqué en la shelve de "arte", y "comentario biblico", y casi lo pongo en la de "discernimiento", y "must read" también. Me gusta que cuenta una historia personal, en forma abierta y generosa. Muy lindo libro para este tiempo de cuaresma del año de la misericordia y para ...more
Amanda R
Jul 01, 2015 Amanda R rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful. This is a book I could reread at least once a year to meditate on the beauties of God.
Karen Mcintyre
Apr 19, 2008 Karen Mcintyre rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faith
It is a book I read and appreciated, but have revisited often. This story was one I always disliked. It goes against my desire to be rewarded for doing good, and to see OTHERs punished for doing evil!

As I have revisited it -- I find myself moving through the Biblical characters, just as Rembrandt did...just as Nouwen did....

I caused me to explore Rembrandt's paintings and life, and it has given me a deeper insight into how art expresses the inexpressible, and how great people of faith have come
Dec 31, 2015 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn’t realize that the book was going to be quite as focused on the story of the prodigal son as it was, but thought it was a great discussion of the roles of the two sons and the father, and how we have aspects of all three. The cover of the book has the image of Rembrandt’s 1668 painting of the same name, and Nouwen spends a bit of the book analyzing the painting as well as the story, and pointing out a few differences between the two.

He starts off describing the younger (prodigal) son. Thi
Jon Stout
Sep 05, 2014 Jon Stout rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pharisees and philosophers
Recommended to Jon by: Candace Sandfort
Shelves: religion
The parable of the Prodigal Son is the basis for a life-changing study by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who became the pastor for a community of the mentally handicapped. Nouwen sees himself in the prodigal son, but he also comes to see himself in the elder obedient son, and finally in the loving father who welcomes them both. Nouwen first experienced the impact of the parable through viewing the painting which Rembrandt painted late in his life, depicting the return of the prodigal son.

The p
Jan Strong
Aug 10, 2014 Jan Strong rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an engaging journey of one man's ( a clergyman) fascination, obsession and journey of truth via Rembrandt's portrait of THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON.

Nouwen says: "More than any other story in the Gospel, the parable of the prodigal son expresses the boundlessness of God's compassionate love."

His insights into all humans and their weaknesses is moving and stimulating. Hope springs alive to read about how each of us at one time or another may be the prodigal, the elder brother or t
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • A Testament of Devotion
  • The Sacrament of the Present Moment
  • Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
  • Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups
  • Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians
  • Prayer
  • The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way
  • Contemplative Prayer
  • The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality
  • Revelations of Divine Love
  • The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God
  • A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
  • Interior Castle
  • Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality
  • The Rule of Saint Benedict
Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (1932–1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books on the spiritual life.

Nouwen's books are widely read today by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved, and The Way of the Heart are just a few of the more widely recognized titles. After nearly two decades of
More about Henri J.M. Nouwen...

Share This Book

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
“Addiction" might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world's delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in "the distant country," leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father's home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in "a distant country." It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.” 59 likes
More quotes…