September 13, 2006

Puppets or Partners?

2006 1525 page22 capT was a typical balmy Sunday afternoon. I had finished my chores. As in most households, I (as husband and dad) took care of the outside—the grass, taking out the trash, and washing the car, while my wife took care of the inside—vacuuming, washing laundry, etc. Now that I was done, I settled down on the living room couch for a few minutes of R & R with a good book. This was the life!
My daughter, in the same room, was playing with her dolls. She had them sipping tea, dressing up for a royal ball, and “tidying up” the dollhouse. She had them engaged in polite conversation and was having a wonderful time. Her brother was still cleaning his room.
“Are you having a fun time playing with your puppets,” I inquired of my little girl, looking up over my eyeglasses and setting my book aside.
“Puppets? These aren’t puppets,” she replied, her voice betraying her shock and consternation. “They are partners. And, Daddy, you probably hurt their feelings.”
“You’re right,” I conceded. “They are not puppets. I meant to say dolls. But what do you mean, partners?”
“Yes. They are not puppets. They are partners. We play together. And we decide what we want to do together. I don’t force them like puppets,” responded my daughter, with an articularity that portended a challenging adolescence ahead.
Apparently my little girl was growing up a lot faster than I expected. I was reminded of the passage from the Bible where we read that from “the mouth of babes” we will hear praises to God (Matt. 21:16). These were truly pearls of wisdom.
My daughter was right. There is a vast difference between being a puppet and being a partner. A puppet is used, manipulated, totally controlled altogether by the puppeteer. A partner, to the contrary, works in cooperation with another.

An Important Theological Lesson

When we reflect upon our relationship with God we recognize that while God is Creator and Sovereign, God has chosen to interact with us more as partners than as puppets.

This means God works through us to love and to serve others. If we are open to God’s leading, through us God comforts the afflicted, protects the innocent, clothes the naked, and feeds the hungry. Through our cooperation God keeps the peace and establishes justice. But that also means we can choose to do otherwise.2006 1525 page22
The parable of the good Samaritan dramatically illustrates this twofold truth. While a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers fell upon him, beat him, and took all he had, leaving him for dead. Shortly thereafter a priest walking that way saw him but passed by on the other side. Sometime later a Levite saw him but also continued without stopping to help. Then finally a certain Samaritan saw the robbery victim, was moved with compassion, and rescued him, taking him to a place of safety and paying for his care (Luke 10).
The priest and the Levite should have known better. There was a need they should have met. Yet they did nothing. We imagine that they rationalized their failure to intervene by arguing within themselves about the inherent risks; or about whether they were best trained to provide aid; or about who had the proper jurisdiction to address this problem; or who was responsible for fighting crime; or whether this was a “state or county” matter; etc.
The lesson is clear. They should have done something. I’m certain God spoke to their hearts, but they would not listen.
God could have easily precluded such problems by simply creating automatons or robots. Had humans been puppets, without any genuine will, then the priest or the Levite would, of course, have properly offered to help. What is more, had there been no freedom at all, there would never have been robbers to begin with.
But God chose to create people who are free. We can choose to serve others or not serve others. Likewise, we can love God (or spurn God) of our own free will. God works with us as partners with the task of serving others and loving others.

“Let’s Do It Together,” He Said.

I am reminded of a story I read, in which a mother, in order to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, took him to a concert featuring an internationally renowned pianist. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Availing himself of the opportunity to explore the surroundings, the little boy got up and eventually wandered through a door marked “Private—Do Not Enter.” When the houselights dimmed and the concert was about to commence, the mother returned to her seat, and upon seeing her son’s empty seat, began frantically scanning up and down the aisle. Her child was missing.

Suddenly, the stage curtains parted, spotlights focused on the impressive grand piano on stage, and there she saw her little boy seated at the piano, innocently playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Presently, the great piano master made his entrance, noticed the lad, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Please keep going. Let’s do it together.” Then, leaning over, the brilliant pianist began filling in a bass part. Soon his other arm reached around to the other side, adding running obbligatos. Together, the grand master and the young novice transformed what otherwise could have been an awkward situation into a beautiful experience for everyone.
Tears of joy streamed down the mother’s cheeks. And the concert turned out to be one the audience and the little boy would long remember.
God whispers in our ears: “Please keep going. Let’s do it together.” If we cooperate with His divine grace, He can turn awkward situations into beautiful experiences, making us instruments of His love and peace.
And that’s because we’re created not to be puppets, but genuine partners with God.
David A. Pendleton, a former state legislator, now serves as an administrative law judge in Honolulu, Hawaii.