I was locked in an interesting discussion the other day with a friend back at home. Having recently discovered that I had left the House completely and was not, as I’d let most of my friends and family believe, simply checking out another wing in the vast domicile, she had taken to evangelising to my wayward soul. Where our conversations were normally about our mundane and carefree lives they quickly became about you and the Brother-Saviour, about coming back home and giving my life back to best Father in the universe. Very many times she failed to understand the depth of my doubt, often telling me that I was simply being difficult, that I would believe if I really wanted to. She is not the first person I have heard this from. Many of your children, it seems, genuinely do not understand how some of us could fail to believe. They think it is simply a matter of choice, that our lack of faith comes from a purposeful effort to undermine you, and not a genuine position of ignorance and confusion. Perhaps this is why many of the people I have spoken to about my predicament have failed to turn me back to you. There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between all of us, a wall that stops believers from truly empathising with those of us that have gone beyond the golden gates.
Our conversation on that day was about freedom and its consequences. As you know one of the central issues that drove me from home is the presence of evil in the world you have made. My friend had just finished extolling the beauties of nature, the magnanimity of our Father, a being that loved the world so much he suffered and died for it. And I asked her – much as I ask myself on many occasions, and as Doubt asks me on the days I am feeling more amenable towards you – I asked her about the people currently suffering through famine in the continent of my ancestors. There are children there, who despite the best efforts of their brethren (some of whom neither know you, nor care about you) will be born, only to die shortly after from disease and starvation. There are those who have known only pain and poverty their entire lives, with nary an inkling of joy. I asked about the war-torn regions in the Middle East, where the children of the Star and the Crescent are locked in what appears to be constant war; where extremists, marching in the name of someone that bears a striking resemblance to you, are murdering people by the thousands, intent that all on this earth bow to their holy vision. I asked about these things and she said, almost nonplussed, “Did Father do any of those?”
In her mind, as in the minds of almost all the children in the House, you have given us free will and so are absolved of all responsibility for the actions perpetrated under this freedom. I was wrong, she said emphatically, to blame you for the deeds of your children.
Ignoring my trials (and failures) at grasping the true meaning of free will, her question brought me to an almost stunning realisation. None of your children would treat their children the way you have treated us. Think for a moment Father, on how parents (the good ones, at any rate) raise their children. An earthly father does not see his two infant sons fighting, with one in real danger of killing the other, and shrug it off, claiming that they possess the freedom to do as they please. An earthly mother does not see her baby waddling towards a burning flame and allow it, claiming that the baby has chosen the fire and so she will respect its choices. Even if the child had already burned itself and still sought to approach the fire no parent would justify leaving it to the flames; no parent would say that because the child really wanted to burn they would let it.
The way we treat our children is centred around circumventing their freedoms, because we see quite clearly that their minds cannot use these freedoms properly. We make our homes childproof; we mash their food into tiny little bits; we swaddle them with the softest clothing. They are young and foolish and fragile, and that is how we, in our love for them, treat them.
But they are children, came my friend’s swift reply. We can distinguish between right and wrong; we know what’s good for us; we are not children. But once again I could not agree with her. Of course when compared with our children we are not children. But when compared to you we are even less than children. The differential between your intellect and ours is far, far greater than that between ours and our kids. And in spite of the fact that the children we birth eventually make it to maturity, we never stop trying to prevent the harm they cause. In my musings on justice I made the point that in its idealisation the justice of your children would aim to prevent harm, using punishment only as a deterrent and not as a tool of vengeance. When our police hear of a potential murder they do not shrug it off and claim that the participants are free. No; they do everything in their power to stop that murder from happening.
And yet it seems our Father in heaven, who loves us far more than we can ever know, refuses to afford us the same courtesy. You know, Father, that we are weak. You know that even when we have the best intentions we still fail. You know that some of us, for whatever reason, do not even have the best intentions. And yet you have not stopped the dictators from murdering millions, the warlords from grabbing children from their homes and shoving guns into their arms. The free will excuse seems immensely shallow because no loving Father, in full knowledge of the limitations of his children, would allow them to destroy themselves so wantonly, especially when the countless threats of the fiery pit down below have done little to quell their bloodlust and violence.
As expected my friend refused to see my point, insisting that the freedom you have given us trumps all else, that somehow, even though we are less than children before your awesome eyes, we are still to blame for the terrible things we foolishly do to one another. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps fathers everywhere would do well to follow in the example of the greatest Father of them all. I suspect the recent holiday commemorating fathers would have taken on a very different tone if this were the case, however. I doubt any one of us, burned and scarred by the flames, could find it in our hearts to celebrate such fathers.
Your Prodigal Son