(…continued) This parable provides some insight into the nagging problem of why God allows so much trouble in our lives. The potential for trouble came when God created us with a free will to live as He has commanded, or, to do it our own way; to live for our Creator, or to ignore our Heavenly Father. God could have eliminated the possibility of the weeds by creating us not in his image, but in the image of a robot, designed to act as programmed. Even now, God could remove every tyrant, restrain every unreasonable boss, force every bully to be kind, shut the mouth of everyone who gossips or tells a lie, and so forth. But God would have to make robots of us to do that, and would have to take away our choices, freedom, personality, character, and everything that makes us human. God could pull out all the weeds and eliminate the freedom; but then the wheat of our humanity would also be gone.
The same freedom that makes evil possible, also creates the opportunity to choose real love, service, kindness, nobility, courage, and sacrifice; all those things that make relationships real and life worth living. Tear out the weeds and there won’t be any wheat left either. God will one day sort this out, do away with all the evil, heal our hearts and minds, and things will be different. But not yet; so for the time being, it is for us to use the freedom God has given us to choose him and his ways. For now, said the farmer in the parable, let it all grow together, weeds and wheat, the freedom to do evil along with the freedom to do good.
This doesn’t mean God never intervenes. It is clear from the Bible that He does. But when and where God intervenes is up to Him, and is very hard to understand. We just have to leave it at that.
The fact that God does not always intervene means that God wants this world to be a place that provides humans with choice, and with the possibility of developing good character or poor character. When we tell children to “make good choices,” are we only hoping they will manage to stay out of trouble for the day? No. It is our hope that the good choices will become habits and the children will grow into good people who naturally want to do the right thing. Of course, this may or may not happen. Children are free to choose. A world that permits the development of moral character is much better than a world that would not permit such freedom; even if this means great suffering is also permitted. This doesn’t mean God causes the suffering or approves of it. But moral development and goodness and meaningful relationships are possible only in a world of genuine freedom.
I know a man who makes robots. He designs and perfects the computers in these robots until they do exactly what he wants them to do. They are perfectly obedient and agreeable to his every command. But I don’t remember him ever saying he was friends with any of his robots. He loves his kids, though. He’s a good father, and does his best to teach his children to do what is right and make good choices. But, unlike the robots, they don’t always do what he tells them to do. Sometimes they break his heart with their disobedience and rebellion. But their dad still loves them. Sometimes they return that love, and that makes all the heartache worthwhile. That imperfect love, freely given, is still infinitely better than any perfectly programmed obedience.
If your main goal in parenting is to prevent children from making a mistake or getting hurt, you will destroy their lives. They have to choose, they have to learn, and they have to grow; or they will never become capable of developing a nature or character that chooses the good.
That is why my dad eventually let me have the car– even though he knew he was taking the risk of losing me, like Donny’s dad lost him; and, like our heavenly Father loses so many of his children.
Near the end of his life, Joshua gathered together the people of Israel that he had led for so many years. In his farewell address to them, he began by retelling the history of all the ways God had provided for them, rescued them, and brought them to the Promised Land. The Joshua said (24:14-15):
Now, fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness… But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Use the freedom God has given you to choose to serve and obey the one who, in the parable, sows the good seed, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
–Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody, 1979 album Slow Train Coming
Psalm 103:13 — As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
Psalm 25:12 — Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works; give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#255)