I will not leave you orphans. I will ask the Father, and He will send the Spirit of truth. (John 14:18)
When God created the human race, He did it with fatherly love. Adam and Eve had no human parents. But they were absolutely not orphans. God provided for them in every way.
We let Satan, in his malice and dishonesty, turn us into orphans. He led us away from God our Father. But the Lord had a plan to rescue us, to save the human race from the existential orphanage. And for most people, that plan involves baptism in our infancy and learning about Jesus in our earliest youth. We avoid the existential orphanage by getting born into a Christian family.
That said, I think we’ve all heard of parents who say, “We’re not going to raise our child in any particular religion. We’ll let our children decide about their religion when they grow up.”
Let’s acknowledge that, from a certain point of view, this makes sense. Each year activists demonstrate on May 7, Worldwide Genital Autonomy Day–the anniversary of the German supreme court decision making infant circumcision illegal. When the court issued that decision a few years ago, Jews and Muslims argued that it interfered with the free exercise of their religion. So the German legislature passed a law overturning the court decision.
But the free-exercise of religion argument actually begs the question. Isn’t free exercise an individual right? But a baby is his or her own individual, with at least some fundamental rights that do not depend on his or her parents’ decisions. Especially the right to life, of course.
And isn’t the freedom of the individual our great American ideal? Who decides who I am? I do! Who decides what I believe and how I live? I do! Who decides how I will pursue happiness? I do!
But hold it. If we’re honest, don’t we have to admit that there is a great deal more to the story of who I am than just what I myself have decided? When I was sixteen years old, I wanted to sleep until noon on Sunday. But my mom did not leave me orphaned. She called me in plenty of time for church. If I didn’t get out of bed right away, she poured ice-water down my back.
So, fellow Americans, grateful as we are for our precious heritage of respect for individual rights, let’s have the courage to face some aspects of our lives that don’t involve options and free choice. After all, ironically enough: None of us can claim an individual right to our American heritage of respect for individual rights. We have only received that heritage as members of something bigger than ourselves, as a part of a national tradition that we did not invent or choose, but which we received as a birthright.
Hence: the inner contradiction of the American mind. On the one hand, we think: The worst thing is when someone tries to take away your freedom. Nothing is worse than being forced to obey something you don’t agree with! But on the other hand, we know that isn’t really true. Losing one’s precious independence is not the worst thing. The worst thing is: being left an orphan. Being left with no heritage, no identity at all.
Our heavenly Father has not left us orphans. The pilgrimage of Jesus has revealed that the Father loves us with the same love with which He loves His only begotten Son. And of course our heavenly Father wants us to be free; He protects our individual rights like no one else does. But the freedom of the child of God is not the freedom of a fatherless orphan. We don’t attain freedom by obeying nobody. We attain freedom by obeying God, instead of obeying anyone or anything less than God. In other words, to be independent of Satan the father of lies, we must embrace fully our total dependence on the Almighty Father.
There’s no option; there’s no choice about God being God. If I try to put myself in God’s place, I, in fact, obey and serve Satan. Since that is precisely Satan’s sin.
The crusaders against religious circumcision of infants, and the parents who treat religion as something optional, something for adults to choose or not to choose: they imagine a totally autonomous, self-determining child. Theoretically, the child should get to decide everything. But in fact such a child is left with no birthright, no heritage, no identity.
The children of God, on the other hand, accept with pride and gratitude the million and a half things that we didn’t decide and can’t decide. We know we don’t have “freedom” to determine who our parents are, or where we come from, what language we learn as our native tongue. Much less do we ourselves decide whether or not we will ultimately die and go to meet the infallible divine Judge, Jesus Christ.
We struggle to obey our heavenly Father’s law and His Church’s teachings; we humbly confess and ask pardon when we don’t. And each of us acknowledges that even my own distinct individuality is not properly “mine.” God has given it to me, as something to use to give Him glory, alongside my brothers and sisters in the divine household.