“So then God abandoned them to uncleanness in their heart’s passionate desires for pleasures…pleasures which made them dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24)
An axiom of preaching—never speak on a subject that you do not understand. I’ve always tried to keep to that admonition. Almost. Thanks be to the glorious Lord, I’ve never known the experience of abandonment. And yet I’ve felt its sharp pangs through the lives of others. If we wonder at the lengths many adopted persons go in order to find their birth parents, especially the mothers, we ought to commiserate with their anguish. They have to deal with the hard feelings of their adopted parents and take their sensitivities into account in order to learn the answer to a single word—why? Why did you give me away? What made you not want me? The response may be as varied as the mothers who answer, and they may lead to reconciliation—or not.
Here in the above quotation from St. Paul’s letter to Romans is an altogether different circumstance. Here the one doing the abandoning is not a mother who probably was frustrated, insecure, reacting in a state of panic and taking what appeared to be a solution to her predicament. The One abandoning one of His precious children is the Lord God Almighty, Creator of all that exists. Why would He abandon a child that He created?
The answer is complex. Unlike an innocent infant given up without his or her consent, St. Paul is referring to adults. Here are mature persons responsible for their actions, having been given the precious gift of free will by the ultimate Parent, a gift that separates us from all creatures who act on instinct and nearly always to their own best interests. Freedom is an awesome present. It makes us responsible for all that we say or do. From birth we are placed in an ongoing process of decision making. How we use that gift defines who we are and where we are headed, both through this lifetime and into the next. We may decide to abandon ourselves to this godless culture in which we live.
Do you recall the tale of Pinocchio? Remember how Mr. Geppetto sent the puppet off to school, and what happened to him on the way—how he got caught up with the bad fellows who took him to the land of earthly pleasures, where he began turning into a donkey? That tale is a metaphor of Adam in the Garden and what happens when one defies the will of God. If we choose to surrender to the times, filling our lives with whatever is set before us, abandoning ourselves to the harmful delights of the moment regardless of the cost to our bodies, minds and souls, those gratifications soon become habits. As in Pinocchio, they charm and delight, then turn into harmful habit cravings and addictions—harmful not only to ourselves but to those who love and care for us. They may pray and persuade, but at what point do they step aside and allow the inevitable to happen? More, at what point does the Holy Spirit realize that every spiritual prompting of the soul will be ignored and rejected? Therefore, even the Spirit of God draws the morbid conclusion that St. Paul calls to our attention in the passage above. What else can be done, other than to step aside and abandon the foolish sinner to the effects of his choice? Let us not forget the presence of the demons who are pleased to toy with the one who has decided to flee from the gift of his precious freedom and accept the role of a slave.