The good shepherd, or the negligent camp leader?
The old chestnut theodicy of free will came up again in a recent conversation. God, I was told, leaves us to take care of ourselves because to interfere with our care would limit our free will.
This made me think of an analogy.
A camp leader looks out over his new charges. They are young kids, not yet teenagers, and they are very excited about camp.
He tells them that, over the next few weeks, they must be very careful to look after one another. He doesn’t want to quell their sense of freedom at camp by interfering in everything they do, so they need to take care of themselves.
The kids think this sounds OK, if a little unusual, and they go about their way.
A day later, one of the kids falls off the jetty down by the lake, and almost drowns. One of his friends helps him to the shore just in time. The camp leader is nowhere to be found.
That night, the kids realize that they won’t be fed unless they prepare the food themselves. They start to get worried.
A few days later, the camp leader has still not shown up. Two kids get into a fight, and one sustains a bad blow to the eye.
What follows over the next few weeks is a nightmare straight from The Lord of the Flies. The kids struggle to keep going on their own, and more fights lead to more injuries. They nearly starve.
The children desperately start reading all kinds of meaning into little things they see. A deep sound from over the hills is interpreted as the camp leader’s car returning to camp, but the car doesn’t appear. The rainbow after a heavy rainstorm is taken as a sign that things are looking up, and that maybe their desolation is coming to an end.
They start calling to the camp leader, in case he can hear them.
There is little point in bringing this story to a close, because its purpose should now be apparent*. We, as humans, are like children to God. We are not mature enough to take care of ourselves. Every day of every week, every week of every year, every year of every century, we hurt, kill, rape, steal from, and lie to one another. We have more than proven our inability to care for one other.
And, like the camp leader, God is ultimately responsible for this mess. He put us here, and he knew what our nature was. Perhaps his initial intention to give us as much freedom as possible was well meant. But, after one or two hundred thousand years of our poor behavior, it simply doesn’t make sense that God is holding back to allow us our freedom – in the same way that it doesn’t make sense that the camp leader should leave his young charges on their own.
In short, God is negligent for not stepping in and putting a stop to the mayhem.
* For those of you who like happy endings, fear not – the kids are all eventually rescued by the police and reunited with their families 🙂