I was in a grocery store a few days ago doing my weekly shopping. In front of me at the checkouts was a young boy of four or five. As his mother loaded her groceries onto the conveyor he was running back and forth, bumping the cart, and yelling, "I want candy" in a loud and shrill voice as he pulled chocolate bars and gum off a nearby shelf. Each time the mother replaced the candy and turned her back he would again grab a handful of candy, repeat his demand, and try to place the candy in the cart. Eventually the mother reached her limit of patience, bent down, picked up her son, and in a stern voice said, "You better behave or God is going to get you. He's probably watching you right now." The boy immediately stopped struggling, became perfectly still, and started glancing to each side, and to the ceiling above. I smiled as I thought of the times in my own youth that I had been faced with the threat of punishment from the almighty. I may have even used the same words on my own son when he was younger. After leaving the store, I thought about the little boy and his mother as I drove home. I decided to write on the subject of whether God watches us, and subsequently punishes us when we are bad. In other words; does God get us?
If you look around today, and see all the bad things happening, you may think that maybe God, is out to get us. The world is in an economic downturn, and millions of people are unemployed. Hunger and diseases such as cancer are still major problems. We pick up the newspaper and read about crime, terrorism, and war and strife around the world. Scientists say that we face the spectre of global warming. The world is regularly facing numerous natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes tornadoes, floods, and tsunamis. It doesn't paint a pretty picture; does it?
Even with all that is happening around me, I find it hard to believe that an infinitely powerful, good and loving, all-knowing God would watch our every move, determine our crimes or indiscretions, and meet out the appropriate punishment on a daily basis. I do believe though that one day we will face judgement for how we've lived our lives. All of us at one time or another have heard someone say, "If I'm not telling the truth, may God strike me down with lightening." Have you ever then heard a rumble of thunder and thought, "I better move away from this person?" We all have differing beliefs, we all follow different religions and we have so many varied views of God, but the one constant is that we all have rules that we follow. As a Christian I follow and try my best to not break any of the ten commandments. Other religions have their own sets of rules. I believe that these rules aren't meant as opportunities to "get us" when we make mistakes. The fact is, we all make mistakes at one time or another. The rules are merely guidelines set forth by God to give us direction, to lead us down the right path, to help us make choices, and to ultimately allow us to use our own free will.
I have a story I've written about one man's journey through life and why things happen. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe learn a few things about how God works.
A man set out one day on a long and arduous journey. He knew that the journey would take a long time, be challenging, and be filled with danger, but he also knew it would be filled with untold beauty and wonder. He wasn't afraid. He was strong and healthy, had a clearly marked path, and knew that food and water could be found along the way. A friend had given him directions, a sturdy pair of shoes, a coat to keep him warm, a hat to protect his head from the sun, and a walking stick. The friend had also told him not to worry. If he stayed on the path, obeyed any signs, and moved steadily forward he would eventually reach his destination. The man knew that he would face cold rain, icy wind and snow, but also would see the sky clear into bright sunshine, feel the sun's warmth and the touch of gentle breezes on his face. The path was long and winding, was sometimes smooth, and at other times rough and marked with holes and gullies. It snaked its way through rolling fields, beneath forests filled with towering trees, along raging rivers, up gradually rising foothills, then moved higher into vast mountain ranges. The path then passed down into sheltered valleys, and across sweltering deserts, and finally to flat, cool plains of grass where it ended. The man's friend had promised that he would be waiting for him at the end of the path, and would lead him home.
As the man made his journey he noticed that there were often signs along the way, and many forks in the path where he had to make choices of which way to choose. There were even side paths that lead away from the main path. Remembering his friends words, the man stayed on the main path, and learned that each fork in the road always led back to the main path. One day the man was walking and saw a beautiful park. Leaving the path he ventured out upon a vast expanse of grass interspersed with magnificent gardens of flowers. In his rush forward he missed the signs that said, "Please stay off the grass, and do not pick the flowers." Taking off his shoes to feel the grass beneath his feet he soon stepped on a bee and was stung. He then picked a flower, and was soon bleeding from a sharp thorn that had pricked his finger. As he returned to the path he grumbled about why his friend hadn't warned him about these dangers.
Further along the path the man heard a rattling noise off to the side amid a pile of stones. His curiosity getting the best of him, he left the path and followed the sound to a dark space between two large stones. Grabbing a nearby stick, he began to poke into the hole. In a flash too fast to see, a head extended from the hole and a rattlesnake bit the man on the hand. For days the man drifted in and out of consciousness as his body fought off the poison. Eventually the man regained his health, but again groused about why his friend hadn't warned him about the danger he had barely survived.
The journey was long and the man faced many more unknown dangers. One day as a storm approached, he took shelter off the path to escape the rain under a huge oak tree. As he rested at the the base of the tree, a bolt of lightening struck the oak tree and nearly killed him. He once again regained his health, resumed his journey and promised to ask his friend, why he had not warned him of the lightening. As the years passed the man became not only older, but wiser. He learned to look for signs, learned many valuable lessons, and eventually made his way to the end of the path. Though not as tall and strong as he once was, he moved steadily and determinedly forward as in the distance he saw a solitary figure standing.
As the man embraced his friend, he felt the years lift away and he was young and strong again. The man said, "Lord it's been a long hard journey to get here. It took a while, but I finally understand why you didn't warn me about the many dangers I was to face. I realize now that you gave me everything I needed to make it here. You even gave me directions to follow.You also gave me free will, and the ability to make my own choices and learn lessons from my decisions. I think the journey was better because I never knew what was going to happen next. Every day, good or bad was a new and wondrous adventure. To be honest the lesson to not poke a snake with a stick was a pretty harsh one. I'm sorry for some of I the times I strayed from the path. I do have one question for you Lord. Why didn't you warn me about lightening? There was never a sign for this or directions away from it. It just happened. It almost seems like you were out to "get me," because I strayed from the path." "No my son. I would never intentionally hurt you. It happened, because that is just the way of the world. The lightening comes with the rain. The rain gives life to all I have created. Now, let's go home; it's time to rest."
As you can see from this story; God is not out to get us. What happens to us is due to free will, and the consequences of our own actions. Free will means that God gives us life, directions, and a path. It is up to us to make are own choices, the most of the life we've been given, and reach the end of the path. Life isn't easy. It wasn't ever meant to be. We will make mistakes, stray from the path, and face many dangers. I also believe that many of life's trials and tribulations are brought on by our own actions. If a criminal hurts someone and goes to jail, it isn't because God, "got him." He's paying the price for his own actions. The same goes for a person without any friends or family, because they're mean and hurtful, and have driven others away. God will never try to get someone. However, he will always be close by, and will someday be waiting at the end of your path.