[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Jesus and Children". Click on the title to listen to or download the audio.]
No, this is not a blog entry centered around Don Henley's politically-driven song from 1989. I'm not going to spend time analyzing the lyrics or speaking to his reversal of the wording of Isaiah 2:4. I'll leave that to you, especially since you may be curious enough now to go find out what that's all about. This entry, however, is not about the song...it's about the end of innocence when it comes to parenting our children. Specifically, this entry is meant to emphasize the fact that our children are sinners in need of a Savior.
In recent months, I was given the 1972 book by psychiatrist Karl Menninger, titled Whatever Became of Sin? Let me preface my reference with the truth that I have not read all of this book (unfortunately, I have several books on my shelf that fall into that category). That being said, let me quote something relevant to my entry today:
"In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of 'sin,' a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone's mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles - sin with an 'I' in the middle? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented and repaired or atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal - or asleep? Wrong things are being done, we know; tares are being sown in the wheat field at night. But is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins? // Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?" (p. 13)
This is a worthwhile subject on its own, but as I reflected on my studies in Mark 10 and the reminder that children need Jesus, this quote struck me in a new way. It is true that the concept of sin has, in large part, disappeared from our society. Most wrong acts are explained away as justifiable due to stress, a temporary mental break from reality, or the result of a bad childhood. While we should understand what might influence our behavior, we must not retreat from acknowledging sin as sin. This is true in society as a whole, but it is also true in our families.
When we talk about children being sinful and needing Jesus, we're not talking simply about childlike behavior that will most likely disappear as the child matures. As Menninger writes, "Standing on one's head is nonconforming, and it is neither aesthetic nor congenial behavior nor expressive of a moral ideal, but it is not likely to be considered sinful. Sin has a willful, defiant, or disloyal quality..." (p. 19). When would a child standing on his head become sinful? When it has been prohibited by his mother or father or any delegated authority that may have charge over him (e.g.- a teacher). 'Kids will be kids' is true about many things, but we must not explain away sinful behavior with such a phrase. Their sin is just as real as ours, and if we teach them to explain it away, we will be creating a harmful pattern.
DISCLAIMER: The following is not meant to portray parental perfection in the author...far from it. It is quite simple to write about the right things we ought to do as parents, and it is a different story once the laptop is shut and the screams of sibling rivalry descend the stairs. So, read on with that in mind.
Imagine this. Sally is 6 years old, Katie is 4 years old, and these two girls are sisters. Both girls are quietly reading books in their room. Sally is working through a book about Clifford the big red dog, and Katie has a pop-up book about dinosaurs in her lap. Because Katie can't really read, she's finished with her book before Sally is. Katie looks at the Clifford book and thinks, "I want to read that one next." So, she stands up, walks over to Sally, grabs the book, and begins a session of tug-of-war until she finally has what she wants. Sally wasn't through with the book, but that didn't matter...Katie wanted it, and she wanted it now. Sally immediately gets angry, lets out a blood-curdling scream, and says, "Give that back. You are the meanest sister ever! MOM!!!!" Mom comes into the room and begins the work of trying to understand what exactly happened so she can respond appropriately.
Let's say that Katie admits she wanted the book so badly that she decided to go take it from her sister. And...let's say that Sally admits to her angry words toward Katie. How do you deal with it? Do you just say "kids will be kids"? Do you laugh it off and quickly update your Facebook status with a smiley face? Would your main concern be getting the book back to Sally, since she had it first? Then, would you just try to get Katie interested in something else so another 'border skirmish' doesn't break out?
I want to suggest that in order to respond correctly, we have to diagnose the problem correctly. Now, look underneath the behavior. We'll deal with behavior, but simply changing behavior is not the goal. Our target is their hearts. So, what's underneath the girls' behavior? (1) Katie eagerly wanted the book that her sister had...she coveted her sister's book. Katie disregarded the fact that her sister was happy and regarded her own happiness as more important...she was prideful and selfish. Katie stole the book from her sister. (2) When wronged by her sister, Sally immediately felt anger, wrath, and malice toward her sister. She apparently expected to be left alone with her book, and when her expectations weren't met, she blew up like a volcano. Sally also spoke to Katie in a way that revealed that her "tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness" (James 3:6).
When you look beyond behavior to motive and heart attitudes, then we can see and properly diagnose the sin. We can't just laugh it off or say 'kids will be kids.' Of course, one may immediately object, "The girls don't know they did all that! Their just 6 and 4." Well, that's why we need to teach them and correct them and discipline them. It seems to me that if we are going to evangelize and disciple our children, then they must see their sin and their need of a Savior. Teaching our children the principle that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) is truly important. However, principle meets reality when we say, "Sally, you did this, but the Bible says that. Sally, you sinned against God when you did that to your sister."
Where do we go from this diagnosis? From here, it is important to emphasize that our sin makes God angry. He is not simply sad that we chose to disobey...He is angry. It is our sin that makes God our enemy. He hates sin. However, God is so merciful and gracious that He sent Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only person who ever made God happy in the way He lived. Mommy can't do it, Daddy can't do it, and you can't do it. Even though we may try as hard as we can to be good, we just can't please God by ourselves. When Jesus died on the cross, God's anger against sin was satisfied, and sin was fully punished. So, whoever turns away from their sin and hates their sin and trusts in Jesus and His death, that person won't be punished for our sin. Don't let that be the end, though...make sure to tell Sally or Katie or [insert child's name here] that they must turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, or else they will be punished for their sin by God.
Someone once mentioned to me that they didn't think a 6-year-old could really understand salvation because they really didn't have anything for which they needed forgiveness. If we, as parents, are consistently pointing to sinful behaviors and attitudes in our children as 'sin,' then this may be remedied. By God's grace, our children will begin to feel the weight of their own sinfulness as we continue to help them see their sin. By God's grace, they will begin to feel their need for a Savior. By God's grace, they will turn from their sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. By God's grace, the gospel will permeate and be at the center of all our parenting.