Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why Can’t God Just Let Us Alone?

A good friend’s struggle with her child has taught me a little bit about theology.

If that sounds odd, let me explain. This particular friend has only one child, a girl, born late in her life when it is statistically considerably more difficult for a woman to conceive and carry to term. It was exceedingly important for her to have children; she and her husband tried many times over more than a decade to conceive, to very little effect. On the rare occasions of success, she always lost the baby early into and sometimes even well into the pregnancy.

So far this is the story of many women, sadly.

But my friend eventually, amazingly, conceived and carried a little girl to term in her late thirties. It was a dodgy pregnancy with a lot of medical monitoring and plenty of warnings along the way, and she came perilously close to checking out of this world as her daughter checked in. She was months in recovering.

But she had given birth to healthy daughter, and she was delighted. She told me she thought that having a child so late in life equipped her to share a lot of the things she had learned that she wouldn’t have known in her early twenties. She couldn’t wait to pass on what she felt was important wisdom that would make her little girl’s life a profitable and happy one.

Except … you know the bit about best laid plans.

From the outset my friend’s daughter was exceedingly difficult to manage, defiant, selfish, sneaky, subversive and a chronic liar. These characteristics were evident by age six and only got worse as she entered her teens. She had a mother and father who cared for her, an extended family who doted on her no matter how badly she behaved and every possible genuine need met and taken care of. In her home, she was not indulged but carefully disciplined, taught to do chores, to be independent and to make herself useful. She was rarely given anything just for the sake of it.

Still, in her early teens, she began to smoke pot and drink and then became sexually active. She stole jewelry, clothing and other items from home and sold them for extra pocket money. And as she realized how easily the social safety net, police procedures and government programs could be manipulated, she began to use the Children’s Aid, school counselors, the parents of school friends and even the police against her parents, making up fictions about abuse and neglect in order to exact sympathy and expand the boundaries of her world, all the time secretly behaving in ways that were sometimes outright criminal. She ran away from home regularly and returned whenever she pleased.

When she turned sixteen and ran away for the fifth time, my friend changed the locks. She’d simply had enough.

Why? I think she realized that continuing to provide financially for a child who refused to respect the rules laid down by her parents made her parents participants and enablers in her actions. Whatever their daughter did, she did while enjoying benefits — like financial and personal security — that she had not earned and were not owed to her. A safe home and private bedroom became a place to hoard pot, alcohol and a diary full of deranged thoughts. An allowance became money to spend on things that were mostly illegal. A private school became a place to be dropped off at in the morning before sneaking away for days of dissipation and self-indulgence instead of the education she was supposed to be receiving.

All the good things her parents gave her simply made things worse. My take on it is that in the end, my friend didn’t abandon her child; her child abandoned her.

Sorry, long story. But I want to compare this situation to the one in which God, as Father, finds himself. Because it seems to me there are one or two similarities.

My friend was far from perfect as a mother. She tried, and sometimes succeeded, and in the end was probably no better or worse than many of us. Many quite horrible parents have achieved better results, in my experience.

God, on the other hand, is the perfect parent. He is culpable for the actions of the people he creates in no way at all. Every single action he takes as Father is unimpeachable, motivated by perfect love and omniscience, and never misses its mark. His love and care are without parallel.

And yet … here we are in all our solipsistic decadence, doing what we please and essentially telling our Father — who has invested infinitely more in us than my friend ever did in her own child — that we’d like him to take a few steps back and kindly let us carry on doing whatever brainless, damaging, self-indulgent things we’d like to.

How do we explain that?

My friend stopped enabling her daughter’s behavior because she wished to cease being an active participant in her daughter’s self-destruction. Every time she handed her daughter money that she knew full well would be horribly misused, she realized her daughter took it as passive endorsement of her ongoing, determinate misbehavior.

She had no choice but to put an end to it.

God is infinitely more tolerant than my friend but there is, with God too, a limit.

My friend provided her daughter with not much more than food, clothing and shelter, which is all any of us can do. That was the extent to which she was responsible or in control in any way. When her daughter was old and smart enough to find those things elsewhere and no longer needed her mother, she was able to find a way to get along in the world without the inconvenience of having to obey a parent.

But things are different with God. We read of the Lord Jesus that “in him all things hold together”. It is our heavenly Father who makes it possible, through his Son, for us to draw our next breath.

Let’s analyze that for a second. How else is this translated?

·        “in Him all things consist [cohere, are held together]” (The Amplified Bible)
·        “He holds all creation together” (New Living Translation)
·        “through Him the universe is a harmonious whole” (Weymouth)

There seems to be across-the-board agreement among translators that the teaching of the Bible is that the ongoing state of both the universe and each and every one of us depends entirely on the moment-by-moment attention and management of the Son of God.

W.E. Vine says that:
“Christ is the personal means by which all the parts of the universe are maintained in cohesion. This solidarity and coherence are not due merely to natural forces and principles: everything depends upon His continuous sustaining power. Even the force of gravitation, which regulates the condition of things, is not only due to His creative act, but is the effect of His upholding power. When the present universe is dissolved, it will be His act.”
Unlike my friend’s daughter who has been able, with the compliance of the Canadian government, to forge her way through life largely oblivious to the havoc she is wreaking, we are the ultimate dependents. We cannot draw a breath that our Father did not grant us. We cannot take a step without the use of the muscles he enables. The subatomic activities within our bodies operate entirely at his behest and cease at his decree. He doesn’t just provide us with food, clothes and shelter, he provides us with absolutely everything.

Without him we are not only helpless; we cease to exist.

This is an essential truism that even pagans recognize when they cry out “How can a loving God allow ‘X’ or ‘Y’ or [fill in the blank]?” In a universe upheld in every respect by God, God must eventually make each one of us accountable for his or her actions or ultimately God becomes a willing participant in our choices, our self-indulgence and self-destruction, and all the damage we do to his world and to one another.

And he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, let alone to participate in it.

Why can’t God just let us alone? Because alone, there ceases to be any ‘us’ worth considering.

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