12.04.2007

Obedience

A question from one of my friends in my story about Brooks in my last post: "How did you punish him for disobeying you?"

Well . . .

The direct answer in this situation is: I didn't.

The long drawn-out explanation of why I didn't -- and of what I believe obedience is -- are the subject for this post.

Normally, I think we use the natural consequences of something to teach obedience, so in this situation I would normally have Brooks help me clean up the mess. However, I was running late to meet someone, and my own need to manage time and do the clean-up before any damage was done to the leather upholstery over-rode any need to make Brooks help. But there was more to it than that, too. The "more to it" is my whole idea of obedience and what I want to teach my kids.

Brooks does have an idea of obedience. Jim Birchfield did the children's message at church the week he preached the annual "stewardship" sermon on tithing, and the children's message was about a friend giving another friend 10 apples, but with the instructions that one of the apples couldn't be eaten but must be given back. The story then went on to explain why it would be difficult to give that 10th apple back, and asked what the friend would think if it wasn't given back. Jim couldn't hear Brooks among all the other noises, but I heard Brooks respond that if the apple wasn't given back "You would be being disobedient."

And I think that gives a good over-view of what Brooks thinks obedience is. To him, obedience is the result of a relationship and the requests of the other party in the relationship. Disobedience is to owe a certain response because of the requirements of the relationship or because of an implicit or explicit promise one has made to that other person, and then to fail to do it.

My friend would tell me that obedience is a lot simpler than that. Obedience is doing what someone in authority tells you to do, when they tell you to do it.

Okay, is that really what we want to teach our kids to do? And is that really what God wants to teach us to do?

That is not what I want to teach my kids to do. I want my kids -- both now and when they are adults working for a boss -- to understand the world and understand relationships and understand their own commitments and responsibilities, and be people of wisdom and integrity. Simple obedience -- to do what a boss tells them to do and when he tells them to do it -- may actually lack that wisdom and integrity. If they are truly aligned with their boss's goals and priorities, they will sometimes suggest a better way, and will often go way beyond what they have been directly instructed to do. They will be people that can be given an area of responsibility and execute it well without needing to be micro-managed. And they will definitely not be people that will say, when something goes wrong: "What?! I did what you told me to do! It's not my fault!" Or, "But you didn't tell me to do that!" when something that obviously needed to be done was neglected because they saw it and the boss didn't.

And there is good evidence from Scripture and from life that God did not have an idea of of our obedience to Him that could be accomplished by "doing what He told us to do and when He told us to do it", or as I envisioned it back when I was 7, by "doing the do's and not doing the don'ts". He could have created us as puppets or robots who had no ability to do anything other than what He programmed us to do, but He didn't. And, at the point of salvation and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, He could choose to put us on "auto-pilot" and take over to get us to that abundant life without all the mess that we bring to the party. But He didn't and doesn't.

From Scripture and from life, I think God's intent is obvious. He is making real people. He is making people of character as shown in the list of virtues in Paul's list to the Galatians of the "fruit of the Spirit." He is making people of wisdom and people of spiritual strength, as -- unlike Moses -- the glory of the Lord does not fade from our faces but grows stronger as we move "from glory to glory". And -- as I repeat over and over again in my words to friends and in this blog --when Jesus said that we'd obey Him if we loved Him and were His, He always followed that immediately with an explanation that obedience of Him meant loving our brothers and the stranger and our enemy. That's not simple "do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it" kind of obedience! It requires a relationship, and requires growth in wisdom and growth in character.

So, I do want to teach my kids to obey me, and those in authority, and to obey God! But I want that obedience to be real, full obedience, that has assimilated God's values as their own, and is growing in an understanding of the world around them and their role in that world and their responsibility in any situation. I do not want kids that simply "do what they are told." I want men who are the amazing creatures God envisioned when He started the process of creation.

So Brooks gained what he needed to gain from his experiment with shaking a bottle of soda and then opening it, and he will be more likely to listen to me in the future when he is in the middle of an experiment and I say "don't do that!" And that accomplishes my goal for the situation and for the child, and I would be teaching him something I don't want to teach him if I impose an unrelated punishment after the fact. It is more important that he trust me and love me than that he never does something I'm telling him not to do. Then, when he is 17 and past following my direct instructions in every moment, he may understand that he shouldn't try drugs NOT because it would anger me or disappoint me or because I'd punish him if I caught him, but because it wouldn't work out well for him even if he didn't get "caught"! Things have their own consequences, and life works the way it works . . . and obedience moves us forward toward real peace and satisfaction. Escape from an unrelated punishment is just not the point!

I think our world would be far closer to the Kingdom of Heaven right now if all parents and all churches changed their definition of "obedience" to match the one we see in the story of Scripture and in Jesus' words to His disciples, as well as in the first church council's words to the church-in-the-world in Acts and in Paul's words to the church in Corinth and Galatia and Colossi.

What is your definition of obedience?

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