Posts tagged parenting
The theme continues. God is a loving God who disciplines his people for their own benefit. Not only that, but even as he disciplines them, he gives them assurances that he will eventually restore them (or, at least, their families and descendants). As I read today’s package, I realized that God was essentially putting the people of Israel in timeout.
I have a two year old, so I am very familiar with the concept of timeout. When my daughter disobeys or becomes a little unruly, I send her to timeout – exile, if you will. Now, she knows that she’s not going to have to sit there forever, but if there was any doubt, I would probably say something like, “You need to sit there for a little while and calm down and then I’ll come get you.”
That’s what God is doing for the people of Israel. He is sending them to timeout, but making sure they know that he is not abandoning them. That’s really a sign of a good dad, isn’t it? Yes, he is being the disciplinarian, but even in the midst of discipline, his love is evident.
I think we could take some cues from God there, not only in our parenting, but in all of our interactions with other people. No matter what the situation, no matter what our emotion, people should understand that they are loved and cared for. Woah…that’s a tough task. But when you think about it, is there anything more important? Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor (other people) as yourself. Everything else is secondary. So, whatever our interaction with someone, they should walk away understanding that we love them.
So, the next time you or I have a moment of thinking we’ve got this God stuff figured out, let’s head over to the most annoying person we know and make sure they come away from our conversation feeling loved.
It is God’s recurring pattern that people be punished for their actions and then embraced in his love. I remember as a young child, whenever I would do something I wasn’t supposed to, I would be punished by one or both of my parents (depending on the severity of the offense). And then, after I had some time to “think about what I had done” and to calm down a little, my parents would come back to me and talk.
Those talks weren’t of the corrective variety – the corrective measure had already been taken – but rather, they were of the loving variety. They would explain to me that they loved me and they didn’t like to punish me. However, I had to respect the rules in our house, had to listen and be obedient when they asked me to do or not do something and, generally, make a positive contribution to our household. I didn’t understand it at the time, but my parents were helping me to mature into a responsible human being.
They were also modeling Godly discipline. You see, God is not a pushover, but he’s not a tyrant either. Like my parents, God’s desire is that he not have to punish me. However, when I head off down a path that is something other than God’s desire, he has to choose to either let me go, knowing that I’m headed for harm or perhaps complete destruction, or he has to intervene in a way that convinces me to turn back, correct course, and set off in a new direction.
Those course corrections can be painful, but they are also temporary. The book of Isaiah seems to be one big course correction for the world. And in Isaiah 35, we get a little taste of the “love talk” that my parents used to give. In the midst of warnings about punishment for the nations, God, through Isaiah, throws out a vision for the future – after punishment has been assessed and calmer heads prevail.
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:4-6)
Things are going to get better. Why? Because God loves us. He’s not going to take our actions and hold them against us forever. He’s going to have the “love talk” with us and he’s going to bring us back to our rightful place in his family. That’s what a loving father does.
Isaiah paints an interesting and conflicted picture of God. Here is a God who has given his people every chance in the world. He has offered them grace upon grace, rescued them countless times, forgiven them over and over. Now, after all of that, he looks at his people and sees selfishness, idolatry, greed, sexual impurity, etc. For someone who loves people as much as God does, this is heartbreaking.
Imagine that you are a parent and, despite your love of your kids, you end up watching them engage in destructive behavior. They are greedy, arrogant, promiscuous and they’ll give their devotion to even the most worthless of things. Can you imagine how you would feel? Would you stop loving your kids? No, you would do everything in your power to help them, which might include “cutting them off” and letting them suffer the consequences of their actions for a while.
That is what Isaiah seems to be saying here. He balances God’s love and desire for his people with the reality that God is going to remove his protection from them – to cut them off. Now, that doesn’t mean that God won’t welcome their return. He will. In fact, he will gladly cleanse them of the filth that they have been rolling around in. But they have to come to him. They have to become aware of their afflictions and to desire change.
And really, this is the course of humanity. We have a God who loves us and we fail to love him back. He doesn’t go away, but we go away often. This, of course, frustrates him and yet he loves us so much that he can’t bring himself to fully unleash his wrath on us (remember, he is much more powerful than even his strongest actions would suggest). The result, of course, is that we might respond to his anger temporarily, but eventually, we fall back into our old habits. Maybe it’s because we know he’s always going to be there – that if we cry out long and hard enough, that he will come to our rescue.
Basically, we take advantage of our God. What a miserable thought. The God who has given us everything gets pushed to the side until we “really” need him. The fact that he hasn’t completely wiped us off the face of the earth is much more a testament to his love than it is a testament to our obedience. Maybe it’s time we learn how to appreciate and reciprocate that love. Then, perhaps God can be our shelter and refuge, rather than our overseer and judge.
There are many things about the Bible that are difficult for us to understand when we apply our modern context to these ancient times. In fact, many of the worst acts done in the name of Jesus have come as a result of people taking ancient Biblical practices out of context and completely misapplying them.
Such is the case for God’s insistence that the people of Israel not intermarry with the surrounding nations. For centuries, people have used this ancient rule as a defense of racial segregation and as an assault on interracial marriage. And, I guess it’ pretty easy to see how, upon a cursory reading of Scripture, someone could draw the conclusion that God doesn’t want us to marry people other than “our people.”
However, that is not what God said and that’s not what we should infer from these passages. Ezra understood this. Look at his prayer in chapter 9. He says that the people of Israel have forsaken the commands God gave when he said:
“The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage…” (Ezra 9:11-12 emphasis mine)
You see, God wasn’t concerned so much with the ethnicity or nationality of the spouse a person chose. What he was more concerned with was their character. And what God knew (and had been proven over time) is that for the Israeilites, intermarriage with the surrounding nations would lead to godlessness, idol worship and all kinds of bad stuff. God wasn’t trying to keep them from devoting themselves to a foreigner, he was trying to keep them from giving themselves over to a foreign god.
For us, then, it seems that we should focus just as much on character as God asked the Israelites to do so long ago. I have a beautiful daughter (whose skin is darker than mine) and when she grows up, she can marry someone from any nation she wants – any ethnicity, any cultural background – and I will give my full support. But if she wants to marry someone of questionable character or someone who worships a different God, then she’ll certainly be met with my disapproval. It’s what parents are supposed to do…and it’s what God did for the people of Israel.
Well, I would say we’re moving in the right direction. As we have seen over and over in our reading thus far, patterns of behavior are easily and often passed from parent to offspring. And whether you attribute these patterns to spiritual influences, environmental ones, or both, the fact is that they are very hard to break.
In fact, probably the best that any of us can hope for (without a life-changing intervention) is that we are able to make modest improvements on the actions of our parents. We can become a little better at the things they were bad at. We can make minor improvements. And that is what we see happening with Amaziah, Uzziah and Jotham.
Here are three guys who actively sought to improve on their fathers’ actions in the area of faithfulness to God. Amaziah’s father, Joash, was a wicked man, so the fact that Amaziah followed the Lord at all was a huge improvement, even if he didn’t do so “wholeheartedly.” Uzziah followed the Lord, but had a weakness that reared it’s head when he became powerful. Jotham, then, having seen his father’s error, did not let his power go to his head in the same way.
You see, the actions of each person (whether an ancient king or a modern day mother of three) are determined by a myriad of factors, both internal and external, past and present. The things that we’ve been exposed to, experiences we’ve had, people we’ve met along the way and countless other factors have all helped shape us into who we are today. They have, in part, caused us to be weak in certain areas and strong in certain areas. And, I believe, no factor shapes us as much as the “parental factor,” that is, how we were raised, the household we grew up in and the environments we were exposed to during that time.
Understanding this – that these factors help shape the person – will give us a better understanding of, and more grace for, those around us. Do you have a friend that is not a great parent? What were her parents like? If her parents were absent or neglectful or abusive, but she is none of those things, then she has made an improvement. Now, she might not win any “Mom of the Year” awards, but she doesn’t hit her kids, doesn’t leave them alone for hours on end while she goes clubbing and she plays an active role in their lives. The fact that she feeds them too much junk food or lets them watch TV isn’t even on her radar. She’s just trying to be sure she doesn’t do to her kids what her parents did to her.
You see, knowing that information helps us to be less judgmental. But here’s the hard part: we don’t always have all of the information. We don’t always know the factors that have helped shape a person. That is why we must lean toward grace – we must err on the side of understanding, rather than judging. That is why the only true judge is the one who knows all, has seen all and can view our lives with the kind of perspective that we can’t ever hope to have. Let’s leave the judging up to him!