My youngest son left for college this month. I now have two adult children out in the world. Today’s passage helped me reflect on the nature of parenting. As parents, we guide our children. We try to share our wisdom with them. We want the best for them. When our children are young, we exert substantial control over them. But as they move into their teen years and young adulthood, we must give up that control and simply pray that they will make decisions that will be in their best interest. As parents, we live in the tension between wanting our children to be their own unique persons AND hoping that they are safe and moving in a right direction.
I can still remember the first time I watched my oldest son drive away by himself in a car, turn at the nearest intersection, and disappear. What would happen to him? Would he make good choices? Would he be OK? All I could do was wait and see. The sense of relief when he returned safe was palpable.
Today’s passage teaches us that God must have a similar experience with us. The Psalmist remembers that God has acted on behalf of the people of Israel, releasing them from captivity. He wants the best for them. I assume God could have simply made the Israelites obey his voice, like automatons. But that is not the relationship that God wants with his people. He wants people to make good decisions, not for his sake, but for their sake. God gives people freedom to make their own decisions, knowing that they may suffer consequences. When the Israelites do not follow God’s commandments, God did not punish them. He simply “gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” and those decisions led to consequences.
I wonder if God lives in a similar tension with us all the time. God gave us unique personalities and the ability to reason and make choices. This shows that God wants us to be our own unique selves — he does not want us to be mindless automatons. And he knows that with such freedom, we can (and often do) make choices that do not take us in a right direction and that those choices will have negative consequences in our lives. But the Psalmist also notes that God is constantly hoping that we will walk in his direction.
Like a parent, I imagine that today God is watching us and wondering, “Will they make good choices? I have given them all my guidance and wisdom, but will they choose to follow it?” He wants to feed us “with the finest of the wheat” but does not make us take it. What will you follow today, your stubborn heart or God’s voice? It’s your choice.