Friday, 12 May 2017

A question of obedience

I read something the other day. A Christian parent, with the best of intentions, said their goal for their child was to build "a habit of cheerful, first-time, complete obedience".

I thought about that.

I mulled it over for days.

And I have pretty strong feelings about it: this is not what I want to build in my children. Not at all. It's something I have read and heard fairly frequently in Christian circles, this idea of instant obedience as a goal for your child. With the idea that they will then be quick to obey God in a cheerful and complete manner.

So why do I disagree so strongly? There are just so many things wrong with this idea!

  • Firstly, I don't want my children to obey any and all authority out of habit. A habit of obedience is not good in an adult, and adults is who they will become.
    "I was ordered to do it, and I obeyed." - as an Austrian, with the shameful past of the 20th century behind us, this makes me shudder.
  • I want my children to choose to obey God out of conviction. Not habit. This is something they will need to choose at a later stage in their lives, when they are able to; and I want them to think it through carefully, commit completely, and obey because they are convinced and because they love God. Not because they've been taught, or out of fear, or out of habit.
  • Equally, I want my children to obey me because they love me and they love to please me. Not because they've been trained into a habit of not questioning my authority. In fact I would welcome their questioning - I want them to trust that I will only require obedience at times where it truly matters, and I will always have good reasons for requiring it. They are welcome to ask me what those reasons are, and I will explain it to them.
    That is how I want them to obey God, too: out of love and trust. I believe God is good and requires obedience for good reasons, for my good. That's why I obey him. That's how I want my children to follow him - with their minds engaged.
Obedience training is for dogs - a child is not a separate being, they are persons who will be adults and I really try to think through what I'm building into them long term. Would "cheerful, complete, first-time obedience" make my life easier? For sure it would! But that's not the persons I hope to build as they go out into the world.