We say that a good Christian is God’s servant, but some people think that being God’s servant is the same as being God’s slave. There is a crucial difference. A servant can choose to serve while a slave is not allowed to choose. This basic truth has an important consequence.
This is easier understood if we give the analogy of a child and the expectations of his parents. A slave is like a child who is expected by his parents to become a doctor whether he wants to or not. The child’s happiness, talents, abilities, etc. are irrelevant. What is important here is what the parents want. This desire may or may not be consistent with their child’s identity, e.g. the child might not be intelligent enough to study medicine or he may be interested in another field. ‘Never mind!’ the parents say. ‘We want what we want. If our child does not obey, he will be punished.’
On the other hand, a servant is like a child whose parents are observant enough to notice that he has certain talents which must be nurtured. Perhaps this child has exhibited the ability to be a fine athlete but he still has to get used to the disciplines of training. The parents point out to the child, ‘It’s up to you to decide if you want to continue training or not, but we see that you have the ability to succeed as an athlete. Don’t waste your chances just because you’d rather not wake up early in the morning. Or maybe you’d rather not be an athlete? It’s really up to you, but we’ve seen how you enjoy this kind of life and we think you might regret giving it up. So what’s it going to be, hmmm?’
The difference here is the former set of parents doesn’t care about the child. They are bullies who use the threat of punishment to make the child obey. If the child does not obey, he will be punished.
In contrast, the latter set of parents love the child and wish what is best for him. This ‘best’ is not based on what the parents wish for themselves but on who the child is, his talents and interests. If the child chooses to not pursue what his parents hope he might, the result is his unhappiness and regret.
We must understand God to be like the second set of parents. God, as Christians know Him, loves us and wishes us to fulfill the purpose we were given. We are all created for something. Some of us are to be athletes or teachers or scientists or priests or doctors. Many of us are supposed to have multiple roles: mothers, sisters, friends, helpers. Whatever it is, if we reject the roles we are meant to play, we will be unhappy.
In the same way, since we are created for God and our ultimate goal is to be reunited with God, to refuse to do so will result in our unhappiness. This is the punishment of hell. It is not, as many people imagine, the punishment of a sadistic God who does not care about what we want.
Christians are God’s servants. The happiest people are those who have discovered what their roles are on Earth and fulfill them willingly.