This last week, on the 13th November, my son turned 1. During this time, I have learnt an enormous amount – far more than during my theological studies – about God and myself. It is not that I didn’t know these things before but they have become more real, and painfully obvious, to me since becoming a father. And, of course, it is no coincidence God is cast as a Father in scripture. There are a whole ream of things I could share but here are three things my son has taught me about God and myself this year:
God is always faithful; I am impatient and lack trust
Even this morning, my son and I went through our usual routine. I got him up and dressed – during which he played and was incredibly happy. I took him downstairs and poured some milk into his bottle (at which his eyes lit up). I took the bottle over to the microwave to warm it for 30 seconds. It was then he decided to get angry. This is a daily occurrence.
Clement loves his food. He doesn’t tantrum a lot (praise God) but, when he does, it is usually over food and drink. Either he wants some, wants more or wants it quicker. This morning, when he got angry, I said to him “I get you your milk every morning, warm it and have never yet failed to give it to you. What do you think is going to happen?” Lo and behold, when the milk appeared again, Clem had his bottle and all was once again well.
It was a poignant reminder that God has never yet failed to sustain or uphold me, even during times of difficulty. He has never once failed to deliver on his promises and has, over the course of my life, given me all sorts of things which I acknowledge come from him and for which I thank him. Yet, so often, I throw little tantrums of my own effectively questioning whether God will give me this or that. They are the sort of things he hasn’t yet failed to give me, so I have no reason to doubt he won’t give them to me now, but so often I do. I am either impatient, wanting them now, or question that he will give them to me at all. My son has taught me the truth of Mt 7:11.
God wants my good; I am defiant
It is undoubtedly true that Clem knows the difference between right and wrong. Not all right and wrong but certainly he knows what ‘no’ means. I know this because sometimes, when I say no, he turns around and stops batting the thing he was touching. Equally, I know he is defiant because sometimes, when I say no, he turns around with a big grin and sticks his hand straight back on the front of the fireplace we have repeatedly told him not to touch.
Most of the time, my son’s desire to touch stuff is irksome rather than grievous. He has a mountain of toys we use to distract him. The toys are eminently more fun than touching the tivo box or poking a plug socket. Nevertheless, toys become boring compared to the sheer delight of doing something he knows he shouldn’t. The actual value of that decision, objectively speaking, is minimal (touching a glass front on a fireplace really isn’t that exciting!) But the very act of defiance is what makes it appealing. What he doesn’t realise is when we ask him not to touch the fire we aren’t out to spoil his fun. Rather, it is something for his own good.
Every time I say no to Clem (especially when he defies me), I am reminded of how gracious God is to me. He has given me all sorts of good things to enjoy in the world. Yet, often, I think the most appealing things are those to which he says ‘no’. When I pursue them, their value turns out to be minimal – or, more usually, detrimental – to me. Yet, pursue them I do. Rico Tice, in Christianity Explored, gives the example of a beach in Australia with signs up saying “Beware! Sharks.” We have to ask whether the signs are there for our own good or simply to spoil our fun. In the same way, we must ask whether God’s word is there to stop us enjoying ourselves or if he intends it for our good. When he says no, it is always for our benefit. When we defy him, just like my son, we say we know better and touching a fire seems like a good idea.
God loves me; I question his care
When my son does what he shouldn’t, discipline usually follows. Typically, this involves some sort of “time out” or being held so he can’t play. It is inevitably accompanied by tears and screams as he hates being stopped from doing what he wants (even if what he wants is eminently stupid!)
Now, I don’t stop loving my son when he defies me. I’m certainly not full of hate and contempt when I discipline him. Usually, especially given his age, his little acts of defiance are little more than a bit irritating. Often, it’s not even that – it’s just a bad habit for him to get into (such as touching the fire). The discipline is a corrective measure more often than not. It is occasionally meant as a punishment too but, even in those circumstances, is a corrective to his behaviour. To leave him to it, and ignore behaviours that I know will be destructive, would be a surefire sign that I don’t love or even care about my son.
In the same way, I am reminded how much God loves me. Not only has he given me a world to enjoy and his word for my good but he also disciplines out of love. Both Proverbs 3:11f and Hebrews 12:3-17 make this truth clear. His discipline is a sign that we are his children. Though no discipline is pleasant at the time, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”. God disciplines his children out of love just as I do my son. He does it to train us, to refine our characters where they need refining. To enact no discipline when we err would be to suggest we are illegitimate sons – one’s whom he doesn’t really care for at all. Discipline is for the good of the one being disciplined and is a sign of love and care. It is a sign of wanting the best and seeking to stop destructive behaviours (1).
- The same applies in the church. Church discipline is a sign of love and care for an individual. To enact no discipline is to suggest we don’t care about destructive behaviours for them or the church