Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Free will

There's an old story of a very wealthy woman who is walking along, wearing a fur coat and absolutely dripping with expensive jewellery. Beside her walks a servant, who is pushing her teenage son along in a jewel-encrusted wheelchair.

A passer-by comes up and commiserates with the woman, commenting that it's such a shame that her poor son is unable to walk.

"Oh no, you're quite mistaken," says the woman. "He can walk, but fortunately we're so wealthy that he doesn't have to."

I'm not a parent, but I am an older sister, a godmother and an aunt, and many of my friends and family are parents. When their babies are born, they are filled with a fierce, protective love. They never want any harm to come to their babies, and would do anything to prevent them from being hurt.

As the child grows, a loving parent allows him more and more independence. When the child is learning to walk, this means allowing him to fall down a few times while he works out how to balance, in the full knowledge that there are going to be times when he hurts himself in the fall. As he gets older, he learns to ride (and fall off) a bicycle and to run around (and fall over and skin his knees). Then he gets to the age when he wants to drive a car, or maybe ride a motorbike, and his parents have fresh worries about him crashing and getting injured or killed.

The parents also have to watch him make mistakes, fail an exam, lose a game, quarrel with his friends, break up with his first girlfriend, be rejected at an interview, and so on. Each time, they are there with arms open to sympathise with him, comfort him, let him know they still love him.

But they have to let the bad things happen, because without them, there can't be any successes. No baby ever learnt to walk without falling over. Nobody ever goes through life without making mistakes and without feeling pain, and it's often through the mistakes and the pain that we learn and grow. If we were never allowed to feel pain, we would be like that boy in the jewel-encrusted wheelchair - pampered and no doubt loved, but living a life full of restrictions and deprived of innumerable simple pleasures.

One of the hardest questions to answer is "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?". The closest I can come to an answer is: God is our Father. He has given us free will. Just like our own parents, He sees the problems that we're walking into. Some of those problems are of our own making, others are not. Either way, He feels our pain, and He feels the pain of a loving Father who can't prevent us from feeling abandoned, rejected, lonely or in pain. But without being allowed to experience these things, we can't grow - a life with no shadows is only half a life.

And when we cry out to Him in our pain and let Him know that we're hurting, He's there with His arms outstretched, ready to offer us His comfort and strength.

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