Yesterday, our son who is away in his first year at university text messaged us to let us know that he is sick. Poor kid. He went to the campus clinic and because he is fevered with sore throat and other vague flu-like symptoms, they immediately quarantined him to his room until he is successfully fever-free for 24 hours.
You might be reading and thinking 'no big deal' - but as a parent, when your kid is sick and you can't be there for them, the first time especially is tough. I feel bad for him...but he is almost 20 years old now and he needs to figure this out on his own. Even if I could go and be with him - I'm not sure I would (incidentally I don't think his Mom agrees with me). As a young adult, I think he needs to work through some of these things and learn to deal with them on his own. He's a man now. And besides, he left us. He made this decision to go away to school of his own free will. He could have stayed home and went somewhere locally. He could have saved us a fortune doing so. But he didn't....not that I'm bitter or anything.
It's probably a bit of a stretch to compare this earthy human analogy to Deity, but I think that God's heart feels that way about us sometimes too. This whole 'free will' thing must be hard on him. You know, watching the things we go through, the stupid mistakes we make, longing to step in and help, but knowing that doesn't help us grow or learn. I think the father's heart experiences great conflict when he observes the terrible evils of human society fully knowing that he is capable of intervening but at the same time not willing to take away our ability to choose - not willing to violate free will.
It is his love that creates the heart-conflict. He loves us so much he doesn't want to see us mess up or hurt others. We hear this heart-conflict in the words of Jesus as he overlooks Jerusalem. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37). You were not willing. It was free-will that got in the way. It always is.
Ironically, it is also God's love that gave us free will in the first place. He loves us so much that he doesn't want us to follow or serve him like robots who have no choice. He chooses us and he wants us to choose him back. We just need to grow up and make the right choices.