From How to Believe Again, by Helmut Thielicke, translated by H. George Anderson (Fortress, ©1970)
Excerpt from: The Parable of the Cost of Building a Tower
"Whoever does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and even his own life cannot be my disciple"(Luke 14:26).
How can the man who demands that we love our enemies at the same time require that we hate those closest to us?
But it is this very contrast that challenges our attention and suggests that here Jesus meant to convey something quite specific when he used the word "hate" and therefore intentionally chose a strong, alarming word-as one might turn on a siren, with its unusual, almost shockproducing sound, in order to call attention to a danger.
And this is just what Christ is doing here-ringing the alarm to call our attention to a threatening danger. This is what he is saying:
"Just try examining your whole life and the various relationships in your life from the point of view of what brings you closer to me and what separates you from me. This general review of your life will reveal some astonishing things. You may think that it is only what is generally called `sin' that is preventing you from becoming a real disciple, the big and the little immoralities in life, the little fibs, the little lazinesses, the little grudges and unkindnesses. Ah, perhaps you are moral people who are on guard against such peccadilloes. Perhaps you are people who believe in the maxim, 'Do right and fear no one.' But don't you see that the devil, instead of making a frontal attack at the point of your morality, has organized a clever maneuver and is attacking your flank or your rear where you least expect it?"
Would it ever occur to me that the devil could use the love I have for my child in order to separate me from God?
Yes, you heard me aright; I mean my love for my child. Of course I am aware of the retorts which are now on the tip of everybody's tongue. Naturally, we are inclined to reply, "After all, God gave me my child. When I love my child, this is naturally the right thing to do; it is impossible that this should separate me from God."
This sounds altogether plausible. But yet it is a bit more complicated than that. How do I really love my child? (Naturally, I could just as well say: How do I really love my wife, my husband, my friend?) I may love my child with a kind of natural, doting fondness, with a basically compulsive egoism which must give vent to maternal and paternal feelings. I may pet and feed and clothe my child well. The child may get everything it wants. But have I ever given a thought to that child's spiritual life? Have I prepared it to meet the powers of sin, suffering, and death? Have I brought it into contact with the Lord who will bring it through these trials? In my prayers and my thoughts do I bring that child each day to him who gave and entrusted it to me?
Once I consider these questions self-critically I quickly discover whether my love for my child brings me closer to God or leads me away from him. Here, for example, is a mother who loves her child with this kind of doting affection-with what might be called an elemental maternal instinct. If that child is taken away from her, say in a traffic accident, in that moment she will only be able to cry out in protest, "How can this so-called God of love permit such a thing?" Anybody who talks that way has loved his child more than he loves God. Naturally, it is understandable from the human point of view. Who would dare to judge and condemn anybody who did this! But the parent who each new day accepts his child as from God and each day commits it unto his keeping, the parent for whom the really important question is whether his child will one day go the right way and live in the peace of its Lord, that parent will be comforted by God in the very moment of grievous loss and God the Father will be very near to him. For he has loved that child not merely with foolish fondness but "in God," under the eyes of God. What is wrong with the kind of parental love that concentrates wholly on providing food and drink and clothes and education, perhaps even making great sacrifices to do so, and never gives even the remotest thought to what is going on in the mind and soul of a teen-age boy or girl apart from these things?
A young man before taking his own life wrote to me: "You are the only one whom I am telling what I intend to do. You can tell my parents. They will be thunderstruck. They never knew me, despite all their care for me. They think I am a real sonny-boy when I fall with gusto into my favorite food which my mother prepares so lovingly. They think they have fed me, but I am starved. They made a home for me, but I was cold and homeless."
And what does the young man say in the film Rebel Without a Cause (the words are put in the mouth of that young actor, James Dean, who died all too soon) ? Here we are shown parents who provide, their young son with every American comfort in life and quite definitely give a lot of thought to the question of what they can do and expend to promote his physical welfare and qualify him to meet life. But they are quite unaware of what is absorbing and engrossing him. And when he bursts out with the dreadful stress in his life and his unanswered questions, his father says to him, "Just wait, in ten years all that will be over. Then you will think differently about it." But the youth cries out, "I want to know now, now! And right now, when I need it, you don't have an answer for me. With all your love you simply let me down. And when I need help, when I'm in despair, you furnish me with exactly nothing." With these words he leaps at his father's throat, chokes him, and then disappears in misery.
Do these parents, or any of these solicitous providers really love? Are they not merely abreacting their maternal and paternal feelings? And in doing so, are they not really leaving those entrusted to them to their own solitude? Are they not abandoning them to suicide, to the fate of weaklings, or to inner or actual vagabondage? And when the catastrophe comes (though in many cases it never goes that far) they stand in court completely bewildered: "I denied myself cigars and food and vacations for him. I dressed like a scarecrow in order to see that he was well dressed. But the mind and soul of my child was always a blank spot on the map of my life; I never really knew him at all."
These are only a few examples of how the devil can poison the very greatest gifts of God, of how he can poison our relationship to the most beloved and closest of persons and make a dividing wall of the very thing that should bind us to the heart of God. There is a kind of love, a kind of sacrificiality and care which does not bring us closer to God but rather carries us and the one we care for away from God.