"There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'  'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " (Luke 15:11-32)

Jesus is explaining God's mercy for those of us who have become lost. He is also explaining why he had no problem mingling with "sinners." This followed the questioning of the ecclesiastical Jewish teachers:
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2)
Now just consider what Jesus is doing by telling this parable - this metaphorical story about the wealthy father and his two sons: He is introducing those around him - even those who opposed him such as the pharisees and Jewish "teachers of the law" - to the nature and personality of the Supreme Being: The loving (and lovable) nature of God.

Just consider the father whose son took off and spent all his money - losing half of his father's wealth. How did that father react when his son came home? With only love - and joy that he decided to come home. The wealth his son squandered was nothing to the father. The fact that his son took off and offended him was already forgiven.

He simply loved his son. He treasured his son. And he was so pleased when his son returned to him.

This is the Supreme Being. Jesus is trying to teach those people - and all of us - about the nature of God. God is not the vengeful, angry God that ecclesiastical translators of the Old Testament and elsewhere have portrayed: God is forgiving. He is loving. He values us more than what we may have done - even if we offended Him in the past - He still loves us and wants the best for us.

But this is also why there are consequences to our actions. Just think of a parent who did not discipline their child with consequences. Say if the child stole something or did some damage - they didn't make the child pay for it or fix it. The child's having no consequences means the parents don't care for the future of the child. They don't care if the child grows up to be a criminal. They don't love the child.

But the Supreme Being cares. This is why the physical world maintains the law of consequences - consequences that occur for this temporary physical body or the next physical body we may occupy.

The fact that we aren't the physical body is important to understanding the law of consequences in the physical world.

For example, if a child were to puncture the tire to another child's bike, what would be the appropriate consequence that his parents should employ? Should they spank the child? That would bear no appropriate consequence. The appropriate consequence would be to make the child repair the bike of the other child and take away the child's bike in the meantime. Or even remove the good tire from the child's bike and put it on the other child's bike and let the child fix his own bike.

Note that this type of consequence would not be considered child abuse. Why? Because the bike is separate from the child. Taking away the child's ability to ride his own bike is appropriate because this is what the child did to another child's bike - he took away the other child's ability to ride his bike because he punctured his tire.

This is the same with consequences in the physical world. Our physical body is a temporary vehicle - it is not us. It is like the bike of the child. If we hurt someone else's body - their temporary vehicle - then God's system will provide us with the appropriate consequence - which will occur to our temporary vehicle - our physical body of this lifetime or the next.

This type of consequence discipline is appropriate because it teaches us - assuming we are willing to learn the lesson - to empathize with others. For example, now that the child who punctured another child's bike doesn't have a bike to ride, he can now experience what he caused upon the other child. This allows him to realize, first, that there are others in the world besides him. And second, just how it feels to be without a bike to ride.

Thus, while some teachings of scripture will inform people of the consequences of living a life of sin (sin ultimately means self-centeredness) - the purpose is not for God to condemn us to "eternal" hell. Otherwise Jesus' parable above would have no meaning.

The fact is, self-centeredness is hell. Those of us who live for ourselves are already in hell. Whether we might temporarily be experiencing positive consequences or negative consequences, it is the same: Living without loving and serving the Supreme Being is hell. And such a hell is "eternal" because as long as we remain self-centered, we remain in hell.

This is the meaning of the part of Jesus' parable that discusses how the son was faced with a famine in the other country and had to work on the pig farm and he wasn't even getting enough to eat. As long as he continued to ignore his father, he was forced to be someone else's servant and suffer mistreatment.

But then he "came to his senses" and realized that even the servants of his father's farm were fed better than this. So he humbly returned to his father, apologetically.

Certainly the son could have continued to ignore his father. In that case, his hellish situation would have continued indefinitely.

This is an analogy within an analogy: Jesus often did this with his parables. They were deep, but for those who had the intelligence to understand them - they also ultimately revealed the loving nature of the Supreme Being.

This is because Jesus loves the Supreme Being. They share a loving relationship. This is the secret of Jesus' teachings.