It begins with the familiar passage from the Gospel. Something about its first lines startled me this time:
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
I noticed what the father didn't do.
He didn't say no. He didn't ask his son what he planned to do with the money. He didn't lay down terms and conditions. He didn't offer advice, or express doubts or disapproval. He just handed his wealth over and let his son go.
Two avenues of reflection opened for me. The first is a familiar one to me: How radical is the freedom God bestows on human beings in handing us over to ourselves.
Jules often quotes a passage from Kierkegaard's Papers and Journals, which we first heard in a class with Dr. Crosby in Liechtenstein. It's about how God's Omnipotence is displayed precisely in his making creatures free.
The greatest good, after all, which can be done for a being, greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to make it free. In order to do just that, omnipotence is required... Only omnipotence can withdraw itself at the same time it gives itself away, and this relationship is the very independence of the receiver... All finite power makes [a being] dependent; only omnipotence can make [a being] independent... It is incomprehensible that omnipotence is not only able to create the most impressive of all things—the whole visible world—but is able to create the most fragile of all things—a being independent of that very omnipotence. Omnipotence, which can handle the world so toughly and with such a heavy hand, can also make itself so light that what it has brought into existence receives independence. Only a wretched and mundane conception of the dialectic of power holds that it is greater and greater in proportion to its ability to compel and to make dependent. No, Socrates had a sounder understanding; he knew that the art of power lies precisely in making another free.
The other avenue—the one that dominated my thoughts yesterday—was how very unlike this father so many human parents are! (I am thinking mainly of myself.)
A beloved friend of mine—a mother of many children with a deep, intuitive spiritual life—tells me that a priest friend of hers reminds her frequently that she has to leave her children free, even free to sin. "God gives us that freedom." She is grateful for the reminder, because she knows how difficult it is to live by. We see how aggressive "the world, the flesh, and the devil" are, and how much damage sin does in human life. We love our children and we feel the terrible risks involved in leaving them free. Our natural impulse is to ring them round with protection; rein them in with rules. Stay in charge; keep control; tell them what to do and what not to do; punish them if they stray outside our will for them.
It's not how God treats us, though, is it? He is Omnipotent and all loving. And He leaves us free.