Often it is the questions of children that are the hardest to answer – probably because they go right to the heart of the matter. So it’s not surprising that many a Sunday School teacher has been challenged by the very logical question: “Why did God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden of Eden when He knew it was so bad?” (Genesis 2:15-17) As adults with a more sophisticated way of phrasing our questions, we too ponder the same thing when we wonder: “Why DID God give us free will?” With His unlimited power and wisdom, why did He make it possible for us to make bad choices that would result in our suffering? If He really loves us, why does He give us the option of failing?
Well, it’s foolish to think we can critique or even explain God’s ways, but perhaps we can gain some useful insight by thinking about the way that some high-profile human parents have behaved. A remarkable example is that set by Warren Buffett, one of the richest men on the planet, who rather than bank-rolling his children to a lavish lifestyle has insisted that they get only enough to provide opportunity to make something of their lives. In his words, they shouldn’t have the option “to do nothing.” Similarly, Bill Gates has made a similar pledge that he will leave only something like 0.04% of his net worth to his three children collectively, saying: “they need to have the sense that their own work is meaningful and important.”
If these uber-wealthy men indeed follow through on these pledges, it means that their children will need to make good decisions, exercise discipline, and worry about their futures, just like the rest of us. And like us, they will not be insulated from the consequence of their mistakes. They too could be ‘failures’ and suffer the misery that comes with the lack of material things. They will not be able to “buy” love or respect, but must earn it.
Contrast that to the stories we sometimes hear of a wealthy person who named a pet in their will to ensure that the beloved creature is assured a life of luxury.
Before we judge either of these choices, let’s reflect for a moment on what they each imply about the potential beneficiary. In the case of the pet, it’s being assumed that the animal doesn’t aspire to anything more than having its physical needs taken care of. We may not admire such a pampered creature, but we also don’t expect much of them – ‘lucky dog’ is probably our sentiment. Yet how different is the tragedy of a human life dissipated with no purpose. This is presumably why Buffett, Gates, and others have thought it their duty as responsible parents to allow their children the option of failure, believing the alternative is far worse: a pampered life of no risk, no growth, and no genuine accomplishment. Though we are hard-put to explain it, we innately recognize that the life of a wild bird, though facing discomfort and danger, is preferable to that of the pet in a gilded cage.
A truly loving parent recognizes that genuine happiness comes only with character – a developed ability to make choices, exercise restraint, and appreciate blessings. In Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) the father granted the insolent request of his immature son for a premature distribution of the inheritance. Surely the father was aware of the many bad outcomes this could have. But in this case, though the cost was high, the risk was worth it: the son eventually returned broke, but wiser and ready to assume a responsible relationship in his father’s household. Similarly, though we may speculate whether our own Heavenly Father could have chosen less painful ways of instilling character in us, at the end of the day all we can do is trust in His love and wisdom, and praise Him for the grace which will ultimately bring us to a joyous homecoming with Him.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)