[On the Farm in Saskatoon]
What does it mean to give up? In English, a lot depends on the preposition and word order. I can give up, as in surrender, and stop fighting. I can give up something, as in to stop smoking: “I gave up smoking.” I can give up on someone, which means to despair, to no longer hope that the person I have given up on will succeed. And then there is the expression to give someone up (or over) to someone or something.
In Romans chapter one, St. Paul says three times that God has given mankind up (or over) to self defeating and destructive ways of thinking and acting (because men and women do not want to keep God in their knowledge—to glorify Him and give Him thanks). This does not mean that God has given up on mankind. No, no, no! It means that God has given mankind what it wanted—or better yet, has not forced mankind to embrace reality, but has allowed human beings to create and live in a fantasy of their own creation. Instead of life in Paradise, mankind preferred death, the slow dying of existence outside of Paradise, in the false reality of their own creation. However, God has not given up on mankind. In fact, God’s call and purpose for human beings has not changed.
When we reject Paradise and go our own ways, we suffer the consequences. The consequences are not God’s punishment for our being “bad”; rather they are the brick walls of reality that we run into. I might say to my son, “Don’t drink too much or you’ll get a nasty hangover.” My son might not believe me. My son might not want to believe me (even though at some level he knows I am right, but something inside him keeps urging him to disobey my advice). And so he drinks too much, gets sick, has a nasty hangover, and then learns that reality has limits—brick walls. If you run into these walls, they will not budge; you will break, not the wall. And then, perhaps, my son will learn that I have given him advice not because I want to control him, but because I love him and want him to understand the way the universe is. I want him to learn it the easy way.
When people have to make a moral decision, sometimes they ask me for advice. They will sometimes want to know if God will abandon them if they make the wrong decision. I often tell them that God will not abandon them—no matter what they do—in the sense of giving up on them. However, God will give them up to the consequences of the decision they make. I will sometimes summarize the matter by saying, “You can do this the hard way, or you can do this the very, very hard way.” It is hard to do the right thing. You will suffer doing the right thing. However, sin has very, very painful consequences that can almost never be seen or even guessed beforehand.
And the consequences of sin are never just individual. The common lie we tell ourselves is that I will be hurting no one but myself. It’s a convenient self delusion. How is it that we can look at the problems of our life and clearly see how they are the fault of our parents, our government, those who have abused us, those who have not helped us, large corporations, etc. and then still say with a straight face, “my sin hurts no one but myself”? We don’t want to think it through. Sin and selfishness hurts people—lots of people, people we don’t see, people we love and don’t want to hurt, people who need our help but whom we cannot help because we have damaged ourselves through sin, through running into brick walls.
And still, God has not given up on us. One of the prayers of matins says that God has given us an example of repentance in the Prophet (King) David. Even those who seduce the wife of a poor but loyal friend, and then arrange a contract to have their loyal friend murdered to cover up their tracks, even such a sinner, God has not given up on. However, David learned the very, very hard way. Sometime, read 2 Samuel beginning at chapter 11 to the end and see how very, very hard it went for David. Not only does David suffer, but his family suffers and his nation suffers. Everyone suffers. Sin hurts people. And yet, in the midst of it all, David repents. Sin, even the consequence of sin, is not the final word. There is always a door open for repentance. It is always possible to change, to learn and to grow. God does not abandon us. He is always there, even if our God-sensitive antennae have been so damaged that we can barely perceive Him. God is there waiting to meet us and help us, waiting for us to turn around and begin the long walk back to Paradise.