We covet our children’s trust. Young children follow our lead with particular eagerness. However, their trust has limits. Instinct and a nascent capacity for reason which depends more on imagination than knowledge occasionally override the comforting influence of Mom and Dad.
Doctor visits prove especially difficult with my four year old. No child greatly enjoys being poked and prodded by a stranger in a weird setting with scary-looking implements. Even so, my son’s response to doctors lands on the extreme end of the spectrum, reacting to an ear exam in much the way I might to waterboarding.
A recent illness proved trying for all parties concerned. Noting an aggressive infection in both ears, the doctor prescribed an external and internal antibiotic. For ten days, we had to administer ear drops morning, noon, and night, on top of an oral suspension. For ten days, we had to wrestle our son to the ground and struggle against his full might to force the medication upon him. Each episode was torturous for him and us. For him, because he may not have understood what was going on and did not consent regardless. For us, because we could offer little comfort aside from the assurance that the deed was for his own good and would be over soon.
In such moments, I wish I could meld my mind to his and upload my knowledge and experience. I wish I could convey now the wherewithal which will someday enable him to endure life’s medication. Of course, if I could do that, my job as parent would be done.
Unable to flash our knowledge to our children’s minds, we mete it out over time, drilling through repetition past layers of doubt, pride, and rebellion. Until we succeed, until our children reach a point beyond which they can effectively care for themselves, we act as custodian.
The primary skill which we must engender in our children is the capacity for reason, the ability to make rational decisions which serve their best interest. However, even as reason manifests, its exercise absent knowledge and experience often produces poor outcomes. No doubt, that proves to be the tragedy of teenage years, an emerging capacity for reason eager to self-determine without much knowledge to determine with.
As adults, we find ourselves in a similar position relative to God. Certainly, I may confess to any number of incidents where I had to be figuratively wrestled to the ground and given medicine against my will. In retrospect, I have come to recognize little difference in the relationship between my son and I in that regard and my inverse relationship with God. In either case, there exists a significant disparity in knowledge. I know better than my son the benefits of his taking antibiotics to address a double-ear infection. God knows better than I the benefits of following his will for my life.
My son imagines a preferable outcome from skipping his dosage, as I have often imagined a preferable outcome from relying upon my own judgment. If my son had the benefit of my knowledge, he might arrive at better decisions. So might I if I shared in God’s omniscience. Alas, just as I cannot upload my knowledge to my son and must teach it to him over time, God’s design requires a progressing relationship to benefit fully from his counsel.
The analogy works to a point. A key difference between the relationship of father to son and that of God to creation is the eternal nature of God. My son will eventually match my capacity, and perhaps even surpass it. I will never match God’s. Therefore, a point will never arrive beyond which I will not require His custody. He will always know more and better. We properly understand humility as the acknowledgement of that fact, not a sanctimonious self-flagellation, but an accurate comparison of our capacity to His.