The Personalist Project

One day, my former pastor, Fr. Ed, was complaining about his (admittedly enormous) workload before the Tabernacle. After a dramatic and joyous conversion (which you can hear about here) he'd become Catholic, gone to seminary, gotten ordained, been assigned a parish, and now been appointed a high school principal

He'd fallen--or was frantically trying to fall--into a routine that would do justice to all the duties he'd been assigned. How in the world, he wanted to know, did Jesus expect him to keep up with all this stuff? And furthermore--

Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks, mid-kvetch, with these words.

You used to love Me. Now you just work for Me. 

The question is: Could He say that to us, too?

As Christians, we don't conceive of God as just a force, an impersonal energy, an amorphous spirit. We may also have moved beyond the misconception that He's just a source of external, foreign, imposed rules and regulations which, if adhered to, will work to our benefit. We believe in Hell, and we don't want to go there. We see the misery of our friends who thought promiscuity or consumerism would make them happy, and we don't want that to happen to us. So we play along with Divine Law willingly enough.

But we may be stuck with an unconscious model of Him as boss, as employer. Lurking in the back of our mind might be the sense that He might fire us, or demote us, if we fail to please. We might have imported to the spiritual life the mentality that reigns in those unpleasant workplaces where you need to look busy, keep up appearances, play the game that your company's culture requires. We may be looking to satisfy the boss more to keep him off our back than to please him. We may be resigned to the idea that he's the boss and we're not, but we're not happy about it.

Similarly, we may be clear on God's transcendence, authority and superior knowledge, but clueless about the way He wants to to trust Him as a child trusts an affectionate father.

He Himself makes this perfectly clear in the parable of the Prodigal Son--who, after all, offered himself as an employee and got turned down.* The son found out the hard way that his father's rules were better than no rules at all, better than all his own experiments in happiness-seeking. He'd reached his dead end; he'd traveled the long, hungry road home. He was ready to stomach the humiliation of presenting his father with his job application for a position only slightly more exalted than Assistant Swine-Feeder.

He was ready to be a good, obedient employee, willing to follow to the letter all the regulations of his new workplace. He must have thought this was the end of his story. He'd forfeited the happiness of pleasant relations with his father and the gratification of having a fortune at his own disposal, but hey, he'd figured out a way to survive. He was prepared to be grateful for that, considering the alternative. He'd even prepared a nice, groveling speech.

But he got turned down.

Because really, if what God wanted was efficient employees, He could have created a series of robots. Or at least a bunch of identical, suitable underlings, intelligent enough to do the job right and pliable enough not to make a fuss about it. As 2 Corinthians 6:18 doesn't say, "I will be a boss to you, and you shall be my employees, says the Lord Almighty."


*I'm indebted to Fr. Lawrence Kutz for this idea.

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