Monday, July 25, 2011

What I have learned as a parent - shades of obedience

If I have learned one thing as a parent, it's that removing a diaper is like being in the Splash Zone at Seaworld - you may think it won't be so bad, but I hope you brought a poncho.

If I have learned two things, it is that there are several different varieties of following the rules or doing the right things.

Sometimes, my kids do the right things because I force them to. I do not let them watch shows that they should not be watching. I take away toys if they cannot play with them properly. I pull one off of his brother when he gets the murderous glint in his eyes. That is one type of obedience - forced righteousness.

Other times, they do the right things because they want to get something out of me. They want a reward. So they do the right thing, and then proudly ask when they will get to play video games, or if they can have an extra cookie for dessert, or to get out of trouble.

But sometimes (all too rare of course), they simply do sweet and kind things because they want to please us. They bring me a coke on a morning where I am grumpy. They spontaneously give their brother a hug and kiss and tell him, "I love you." They bring a stuffed animal to their cousin who is spending the night, so that he won't get scared.

So those are the three types of obedience from children: forced righteousness, goal-seeking righteousness, and unconditional righteousness (without expectation of receiving anything).

It is obvious which I prefer as a father. I get no joy at all from the first; I get little joy from the second; and I take great pride when I see the third.

Despite all of us seeing this in our children, we do the same thing with God.

Some of us are only good because we are forced to be good - through peer pressure at church, or expectations of society, or because God has not given us the capacity to sin in a certain way. It is no virtue to avoid depression if you are not chemically tempted toward depression; nor is it a virtue to avoid homosexuality if you are not attracted to members of your same gender. (Anyone can avoid sin if they are forced to do so, or if they have no temptation otherwise. So of course there is no favor with God for this!) All of our religious systems of guilt-based condemnation of sinners falls into this category.

Some of us are only good because we want something from God - either to avoid some punishment, or to seek out some reward. Though this is better than the first motive, it is still not really valuable for growing our relationship with God. We are still seeking a quid-pro-quo relationship instead of a truly servant relationship. Or perhaps we want something from others; more than a few churches pollute their ministries with church advertisements--sending the message that we want to show you God's love, as long as you know that we are the church who did so.

The right thing for us to do is to model after what we wish our children would do. To be loving and kind to those around us -- not because we expect to get something, but simply because we want to love them. To take care of those around us not with an agenda, but simply because they need tending to. To help those who disagree with us, simply because they need help.

I talk a lot about the bound will here on Reboot. Does that mean we do not seek to do good? Of course not. Obviously I am not recommending a sin-crazed lifestyle. But if you are trying to avoid sin in order to get some credit, or to avoid some punishment, or out of pressure from those around you, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. You are tainting the value of your righteousness.

You want to really please God? Get rid of all of the other stuff--all of the religious pressure, all of the desires to get rewards from people. Instead, just do good for the sake of doing good. Only when we embrace our freedom from religious systematic dogma-based righteousness can we truly be free to pursue goodness for goodness' sake.

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