dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Category: Academic Scribblings

Decisions, decisions: Raising a Child According to Biblical Principles

I don’t know how “normal” it is for someone who’s only just made it to the second half of the second trimester of her first pregnancy to be spending more time thinking about and planning for her child’s older years than about setting up a nursery and getting baby stuff. But hey, the kid’s only going to be a baby for twelve months, a toddler for two years, a pre-schooler for three years, a school-going child for six years, after which he or she hits the teen years and really, should be pretty much capable of independent thinking and decision-making (with some guidance, of course, which will ease off gradually as he or she approaches adulthood).

Frankly, I think decisions about family values and disciplinary principles and measures should be made way in advance, as far as possible, so that we don’t leave ourselves open to emotional, reactionary outbursts when faced with difficult situations. If there is already a clear framework in place, it’s much more likely for me to be able to respond rationally, if not entirely positively (I’m only human).

The main things that have been occupying my mind are the issues of ethics, morality and discipline. In my opinion, it ought to be clear to any thinking person who is willing to be honest about what they’re seeing around them that the children and youth of today are increasingly difficult to deal with and that every successive generation seems to be getting more and more selfish, disrespectful, irreverent, irresponsible, inconsiderate and unhelpful. Delinquency is on the rise nearly everywhere, it seems, and the number of parents filing Beyond Parental Control complaints in the Juvenile Court is climbing.

I wonder, is it really such a stretch to see a link between this and changing philosophies of and attitudes and approaches towards child-rearing (anti-discipline, anti-punishment, helicopter parenting, etc.)? And is it really such a stretch, in turn, to see a further link between that and the idealised (post)modern lifestyle and its media-fuelled obsession with image, social status and consumerism?

A major issue I have with most of the ideas and arguments I see being thrown around online is that they are extremely skewed. Throw a rock in any direction, using any level of force, and you’re likely to hit someone whose convictions about parenting mainly stem from articles, information and research originating in the United States (US). And a lot of these are crazy-focused on the supposedly unbridgeable divide between modern, enlightened, humane and child-focused white parenting and archaic, cruel, barbaric and authoritarian traditional (usually made out to be Asian, particularly Chinese, or else religion-based, particularly Christian) parenting.

Firstly, I don’t think the majority of the church world today actually understands the Bible correctly. More on that in another post as it’s an entire topic on its own. Or you can just peruse this YouTube channel (it’ll help you understand my views a lot better, if you’re interested).

Secondly, let us not forget that the US in general (in fact, the Caucasian world in general, when you think about it) has an extremely long history and an undeniable track record of making flawed assumptions about other races and cultures, dismissing them as inferior or wrong, and imposing its own standards on other populations by force (whether through actual use of arms or other pressures, it’s still force). Let us not close our eyes to the simple fact that despite all its self-righteous talk, the US is turning out to be a real failure at raising new generations that respect authority and boundaries and value community. How many more school shootings, teacher beatings (even killings) and whatnot need to happen before we start thinking about the circumstantial correlations? And yet “child protection” is reaching a ridiculous point – parents can be arrested and children forcefully taken into state custody just because a kid is left in a parked car for a few minutes or a couple of children are allowed to walk home from a park unaccompanied.

I’m not saying that I’m definitely right or that anyone reading this needs to agree with my conclusions. What I do hope is that people will think carefully about these things and come to their own conclusions independently instead of just jumping onto popular bandwagons or siding with the current majority. What’s popular may not be right; what looks perfectly reasonable at first glance may not stand up to a thorough dissection. I may turn out to be wrong – like I said, I’m human. We all are.

So what do I really have to say about all this? Okay. Here goes.

First, I believe that as a Christian, I must adhere to Biblical standards. That means I am obligated to obey God’s Law (to me, that’s the Ten Commandments, both as stated in the Old Testament and as distilled by Jesus Christ in the Gospels), do my best to correctly interpret all other instructions and guidelines in the Scripture (in the context of this post, all other verses/passages that touch on parenting and child-rearing) in their full context and follow them, and pray for the wisdom to say and do the right things at the right times. And may God have mercy on me for my imperfect efforts. I am not saying that I’m holy or perfect, that I interpret the Bible absolutely correctly, or that I’m better than anyone.

Second, as a member of various communities, I am obligated to ensure to the best of my knowledge and ability that my family and I are positive influences and contributors instead of sources of unpleasantness or a drain on community resources. This means that I believe it is my responsibility to find and maintain a balance between fulfilling the needs and (to reasonable extents) the wants of my family, and upholding the social contract (understanding that in many contexts we do need to prioritise “the greater good” and place the needs of the many above the needs of the few, as clichéd as that sounds).

Thirdly, as an educated (I have an Honours degree) wannabe academic (I still dream of achieving a PhD someday) who considers herself a rational, logical, reasonable and practical person, I believe that I should always try to make sure my parenting strategies adapt to the different stages in a child’s physical, mental, intellectual, psychological development. And I don’t believe in taking everything that well-known or celebrated doctors or scientists say wholesale, either – there’s enough evidence to show that the publicity that discoveries or conclusions are given, and hence the likelihood of their becoming widely accepted or quietly shoved into obscurity, is controlled by the ones who hold the money. That’s how the world is run, whether you want to open your eyes and see it or not. It’s not always about the good to humanity, but about profits.

Biblical Standards

The Ten Commandments
I believe that this is the standard by which a believer should live his or her life, if he or she understands the requirements of Kingdom citizenship:

Exodus 20: 3–17 (AKJV)
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Deuteronomy 5: 7–21 (AKJV)
Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
Neither shalt thou steal.
Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

There is nothing in the Law that is explicitly about parenting or child-rearing, but there are clear enough principles here to provide obvious guidelines:

  • Children are not to become their parents’ little gods/idols. Our lives must not revolve around them. Equal care should be taken to avoid sliding into the other side of this – making ourselves and our parenting ideals our gods/idols and exploiting our children for our own fulfilment and/or status.
  • We are to teach our children to honour and worship God and live by His laws, both for our own sakes as well as theirs, their children’s and their grandchildren’s.
  • We are not to tax our children needlessly by buying into the prevalent “tuition culture” or engaging in parental one-upmanship by cluttering their (our?) weekends with endless enrichment classes and other activities – we all need to take a real, proper break one day a week at least, to rest, relax, and reconnect with ourselves, one another and God. We can’t stop others from not taking a break, but we shouldn’t be part of the reason they are working, either, if we can help it. This is about appreciating the fact that we are freemen and not slaves, and being fair and humanitarian to the others around us or who work for and serve us.
  • We are to model good behaviour and contentment for our children (basically by obeying the Law!).
  • We are to teach them to uphold the social contract (my understanding of this is that it is everyone’s social responsibility to be respectable, contributing members of the community, treating others with honour, kindness and respect and where they don’t clash with Biblical principles, upholding the widely-held social norms and values in order to keep the peace).

Matthew 22: 35–40 (AKJV)
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying: “Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus said unto him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This (above) is the Law of God as distilled by Christ Himself. A read of the Gospels is sufficient to indicate that as far as Jesus is concerned, one’s neighbour is identified as anyone that one comes into contact with and has the opportunity to impact, and that would include our family members – our children. We are to love our children as we love ourselves.

To my understanding, this means treating them with respect, because we are all worthy of it, being made in the image of God just as we are. It also means ensuring that we discipline them while they are not yet able to practise self-discipline, and making sure we teach them to value it and practise it themselves, because it is in man’s best interest to live a disciplined life. It also means showing them how to and teaching them to uphold the social contract.

Parenting Guidelines
There are lots of verses and passages that offer parenting instructions; some of them are considered highly controversial, especially those that espouse corporal punishment. Let us note from the outset, though, that many of these fall under the purview of the Bible’s wisdom literature and practical guidelines, or the divinely-inspired apostolic guidelines to the Early Church, and are not God’s divine Laws – they must be interpreted in their full context, as well as in the light of the Law. Taking something out of context and bandying it about as “evidence” is just not right.

Deuteronomy 6: 1–9 (AKJV)
Now these [the Ten Commandments] are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it. That thou mightiest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.
            Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
            Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
            And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

This passage reinforces the logical conclusions I drew from reading the Ten Commandments as-is. It also sets priorities: God is first, followed by family, after which comes everything else.

Proverbs 22: 6 (AKJV)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22: 15 (AKJV)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 13: 24 (AKJV)
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Proverbs 23: 13–14 (AKJV)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 29: 15, 17 (AKJV)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.

Proverbs 19:18 (AKJV)
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.

Obviously, the above are also the verses most widely used to criticise “traditional Christian” upbringing as abusive and controlling. They are also often compared to the “brutal” and “uncivilised” methods that the no-spank camp is so fond of highlighting in “Chinese tiger mum parenting”. However, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the literature (and non-print resources) on the topic is very US-centric and steeped in the currently popular trend of permissive, “natural” parenting and it invariably assumes that any kind of punishment that causes physical pain is crude, backward and abusive, and meant to instil fear-based obedience that creates relational rifts and breeds emotional/psychological damage and resentment. It also assumes that correction via any kind of beating is to be applied in the heat of the moment and is therefore subject to the executor’s emotional whims – and therefore in danger of turning into a venting session.

Taken in context with the Law of God (the Ten Commandments) and many other clear instructions and guidelines on parenting, family and social life elsewhere in Scripture (many are listed below), it is very clear that the believer’s priorities are always love, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, respect and honour. Even God Himself has set the example by being patient, longsuffering and kind, with violence only used as a last resort – with warning of it given long beforehand, along with repeated reminders that it will be applied once the last line is crossed.

I therefore conclude that there is a place for corporal punishment. I also conclude that it is to be used sparingly, as the last line of action in a series of strategies (probably ranging from disapproving looks to scolding to removal of privileges, etc.). I am absolutely certain that this is biblically sound and in line with God’s own methods in dealing with us, His children.

Ephesians 6: 4 (AKJV)
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Colossians 3: 21 (AKJV)
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

Here’s a clear indication that discipline is not meant to instil fear or force submission in children. We’re instructed to not even drive them to anger/exasperation or discouragement, making it logically clear that fear and forced submission are out of the question. The Bible also uses the word “provoke”, which means that parents should take care not to impose pointless rules or unnecessary requirements on their children, and should also watch their speech to ensure that they do not belittle a child or push his/her buttons.

Again, it all comes back to the principles in the Law – treat everyone, including your children, with love and respect, while at the same time making every effort to live up to the required standard.

Other Related Scriptures
Some of these provide principles and guidelines for children specifically, and some of them are general ones that can and should be integrated into the parenting process.

Matthew 5: 16 (AKJV)
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

As parents, we are to lead exemplary lives and model the Christian walk for our children.

1 Corinthians 11: 3, 9 (AKJV)
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. …Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.

I’m pretty much a believer in the somewhat clichéd saying that everything rises and falls with leadership. If this order is not right in the home and family, I’m convinced that it makes parenting much more difficult than it needs to be, and also interferes with the teaching of God’s Laws and precepts. I’ll be talking about my views on gender roles in another post, so don’t hold your breath waiting for elaboration here.

Ephesians 6: 1–3 (AKJV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

Colossians 3: 20 (AKJV)
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

This is something that we have to somehow teach our kids. I suppose the best way would be to earn it, share the concept through stories and parables, and live in obedience to God our Father because we are His children, adopted into the family through Christ. And while as adults we are no longer children, and the dynamics between our own parents and ourselves should rightly have evolved (as it is written: a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh), it is still good to honour them. Children learn by watching the examples of their elders, and if we do not set a good example… well, many of our own experiences already tell us what can/will happen.

Ecclesiastes 11: 9–10 (AKJV)
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thine heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

I am still young, myself. But I’ve also lived long enough and been through enough to know that this is a fact of life. And it’s something that E and I are going to have to teach our kids… hopefully, they will be able to learn it without hard experience. Childhood should be enjoyed, as far as possible. It’s a time of innocence and wonder and I hope and pray that I will be able to add to it and make good memories with my kids – while always keeping in mind the fact that they will have to grow up and face life on their own. It’s no small responsibility to have to somehow equip them for it, but we’ll work it out. All things are possible.

Proverbs 13: 18, 20 (AKJV)
Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

This is why I advocate asking for and taking advice and criticism from experienced parents that you look up to and respect. And also why I encourage everyone to read widely – just make sure you take what you read with a pinch of salt. Not every leader or teacher is really wise, and not everyone who is lauded as a role model is really mentor material. Just because one writer is a bestseller and another is obscure, doesn’t mean that the bestseller is right. Always measure them against the Bible standard.

This also means, of course, that while it is still within my control I will do what I can to ensure that my children are surrounded by good influences, and do what I can to teach them to be teachable.

Hebrews 12: 5–11 (AKJV)
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”
            If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
            Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.
            Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

…I don’t see a need to elaborate or add to what’s abundantly clear in the passage. Except maybe to point out that for every anti-spanking/pro-“natural” parenting advocate who claims to have an irreparably damaged psyche and a lousy relationship with his/her parents because he/she was “abused” as a child, there is probably a (personally I believe there are more) normal, rational parent who acknowledges that while his/her childhood wasn’t perfect, he/she loved and respected and honoured his/her parents and still does, and also realises that every single human on this planet is damaged in some way, regardless of their parents’ methods. Also, I reiterate that Western (predominantly American, it seems) opinions on this seem vastly different from Asian ones.

We really don’t need to overcompensate for what we “suffered” in childhood by completely spoiling our kids, people. Too often we just overdo things (in many more aspects than just childrearing) and this causes far more damage in the long run. Hasn’t the history of the human race taught us anything?

Proverbs 25: 28 (AKJV)
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

Proverbs 19: 11, 19 (AKJV)
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.

James 1: 19–20 (AKJV)
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Proverbs 16: 21–24, 32 (AKJV)
The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. …He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

The Bible is abundantly clear, both here and in many other places, that indulging in anger is not wise and is in fact counterproductive. God’s Word makes it exceedingly clear that love, generosity, kindness, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness are the Christian’s priorities. That does not mean the removal of consequences. There is a time and place for everything under the sun, as one learns from books like Ecclesiastes.

As I already mentioned above, discipline, particularly when it takes the form of corporal punishment, is never to be meted out in the heat of the moment. It is not something to be executed in anger. A parent’s job is hard because he or she has to always be in control of him or herself; this means that rules, boundaries and limitations must be set and enforced properly, in line with the Word of God. Don’t ignore that little note in Proverbs 19:19 that says we’ll ultimately have to answer to God and pay a price if we’re always reacting wrathfully.

Colossians 3: 8, 12–15, 17 (AKJV)
But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth…
            Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
            And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.

Again, another passage that pretty much speaks for itself.

Upholding the Social Contract

Hebrews 12: 14–17 (AKJV)
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

Colossians 3: 25 (AKJV)
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

I think it is pretty clear in the Bible that we should keep the peace as far as possible, and obey the laws of the land we are living in. If that’s the US for you, fine. If it isn’t, then for goodness’ sake please make up your own mind about what works for you and your family, within the bounds of the laws of wherever it is you are. I’m in Southeast Asia, and where I live, so-called “Chinese-style” parenting isn’t against the law, and neither is it entirely out of fashion.

I do note, however, that in the Hebrews passage above, there is a warning that one should not act in a way that works against peace – the price is bitterness, which leads to other troubles. Like I pointed out above, once more it is clear that discipline must be carried out with clarity, not meted out in anger. This is applicable in the family as well as in much wider spheres.

Titus 2: 1–8 (AKJV)
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober-minded.
            In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: In doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

Exemplary behaviour is required of parents at all times and in all contexts, whether one is a biological parent or a spiritual one (mentorship is a kind of parenting, in my mind). I believe there’s no better way to instil a sense of what is right and wrong in your children than by living your convictions clearly. Actions, as always, speak much louder than words.

Psalm 127: 3–5 (AKJV)
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Proverbs 13: 22a (AKJV)
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children:

Having the right attitude towards children, especially our own children (of course!), is extremely important. If we don’t see children in the right light, it follows that we won’t treat them right – whether they are others’ or ours. They are precious, for more reasons than most of us seem to be consistently aware, and they are necessary for our future; not only our own personal future, but also for the entire community’s, the nation’s, and the human race’s. So whatever we decide, it should be with their good and their future in mind. That includes, of course, making sure that they are as well provided for as we can manage.

What of the Violent Repercussions That The Law Requires?

We’ve all heard these being bandied around, no doubt being used by modern/”enlightened” experts to argue that all Bible-based child-rearing principles are archaic, barbaric and abusive (especially the ones that clearly encourage corporal punishment):

Deuteronomy 21: 18–21 (AKJV)
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.” And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Exodus 21: 15, 17 (AKJV)
And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Well, this brings us to the question of whether one has actually read the Bible for oneself and understood it. It is no good simply shouting at me, for one, that Scripture is self-contradictory when I’ve read the entire Bible through at least twice, and studied large chunks of it over many years, both academically and for theological understanding.

The Mosaic Law, of which the above laws are a part of, are the Old Covenant that the Old Testament is associated with. As such, it is subject to a few things: The overarching unchanging Law of God (the Ten Commandments), the ceremonial laws about sacrifice and atonement which are also a part of the Old Covenant (placed there to give people who sinned a way to have their mistakes covered), and the New Covenant brought in by Jesus Christ which made the Old Covenant obsolete. Hence, death-to-the-child/delinquent-who-disrespects/disobeys-his-parents really is an archaic and outdated law that we absolutely do not have to even consider keeping in this day and age.

Proverbs 16: 11 (AKJV)
A just weight and balance are the Lord’s: all the weights of the bag are His work.

As the Lord is just, so must we be in our judgment of our children’s wrongdoing and their necessary consequences. Once again, we are reminded that punishment must not be inflicted in reactive anger, but in cool, rational justice, tempered with grace and love.

The Scientific Side of Things

I’m no scientist, but I’ve read several articles about studies on cognitive development, and I’m convinced that the human brain grows in its capability to consciously handle different things (language, concepts, abstract ideas, etc.) in stages.

I am utterly unconvinced, therefore, that it makes any rational sense at all to try to reason (e.g. if you do this, it upsets me/others, etc.) with a toddler, not because he or she is less intelligent or inferior, but because the toddler brain is simply not yet physically or chemically able to process logical thoughts. At that age, I am convinced, they are still very much beings who live in the now, reacting emotionally to stimuli and beginning to process memory and patterns. With preschoolers, one might have success in explaining cause and effect and making the consequences of certain behaviours clear in advance, but higher-level reasoning (eg. why Mummy/Daddy don’t want you to do this, why eating this is good for you, why you need to sleep at this time, etc.) is probably still out of their league.

Basically, I believe in matching my parenting approach and techniques to my child’s changing cognitive ability. It’s just ineffective, inefficient and frustrating otherwise.

Ending Thoughts

I personally would choose to end this lengthy series of thoughts with these passages, which remind me that in the end, good fruits speak for themselves, and that ultimately I am answerable solely to God Almighty for the way I have chosen to steward the souls He has entrusted to my care for a time:

Proverbs 19: 21, 27–28 (AKJV)
There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge. An ungodly witness scorneth judgment: and the mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity.

Proverbs 16: 1–7, 9, 16–18, 20, 25, 33 (AKJV)
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.
            All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.
            Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.
            The Lord hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
            Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
            By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil. When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
            A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
            How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
            He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.
            There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
            The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.

1 Peter 3: 8–22 (AKJV)
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
            For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
            And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
            For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
            The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.

Prelude to a Bunch of Possibly Controversial Stuff

There’s been a whole lot of writing and thinking going on here, for months really, but nothing much has been posted. Partly because of the dormancy thing, and partly because I haven’t felt ready to make some of these things public. Yes, even though I’m pretty much still anonymous (only a handful of readers know who I am offline), it bothers me to think that people might get into fights with me about some of the stuff I believe in.

I guess I’m going to post them anyway, because I want to have them available as a resource for people who might want to consider different perspectives. Also because the idea that there is an unknown audience out there forces me to be as coherent as possible, which is a really good mental exercise.

Upcoming topics include (in no particular order):

  1. What I think Christianity really is about (and it’s not what mainstream churches seem to be teaching).
  2. What I believe about gender roles, sex and marriage, and why.
  3. The parenting principles I intend to employ, and why.

I suppose it’s got a lot to do with actually being pregnant and watching the clock tick-tock its way down to the moment when I somehow squeeze a new human onto this (admittedly overcrowded) planet, but these are things I’ve been thinking about and scribbling random notes and paragraphs on for years. In a way, they need to be given birth to as well.

The Planting of the Lord

Many years ago, I wrote a paper on the garden as one of the most important tropes in scripture. The project traced its evolution from Eden to the New Jerusalem, and swept broadly through related tropes like the city, the woman and the bride, giving a brief overview of the overlapping roles and epochs of humanity, Israel, and the Church (in this blog I use “church” to refer to human institutions, and “Church” to refer to the universal body of Christ).

The story of the Bible can be analysed from many angles and interpreted in many ways, one of which is linked to the parallel that God draws between man and plant life. Allegorical and metaphorical uses of plants abound in scripture, and as someone who’s always been fascinated with plants and who only recently found success in cultivating them, I find the lure of this relatively uncharted research terrain is growing again.

I find it good to keep in mind while studying the Word that the English translations we hold in our hands are not the original text. Unless you take time and make the effort to look a little deeper by studying a little bit of Hebrew and Greek (the languages of the original texts), I don’t think you will get a truly accurate picture of what we’re supposed to be receiving from it.

Personally, I believe that just as marriage is God’s way of helping finite and limited humans approach an understanding of the mysteries of the soul’s true relationship with God in its final perfection, so too do many of humanity’s interactive relationships with creation and one another point us to other important lessons about the spirit realm.

So what does it mean to be “the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3), and what can we learn about our role in relation to Him as the planter/gardener by studying and practising the Word and botany?

We start with the plant. What is a plant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A living organism of the kind exemplified by trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, and mosses, typically growing in a permanent site, absorbing water and inorganic substances through its roots, and synthesizing nutrients in its leaves by photosynthesis using the green pigment chlorophyll.”

Basically, it’s a living thing that is unable to decide its own location and surroundings, and which needs an anchorage site, sunlight, water and air. None of these necessary things can be affected by the plant in any way – it’s dependent. The only thing the plant does is take in what it needs, and if it doesn’t get what it needs or what it gets is sub-par or contaminated, it will simply suffer. Its only job or reason for existing is to grow and reproduce.

I’m reminded of the title of a friend’s blog, Bloom Where You’re Planted. It’s practically a duty, when you realise that you’re just, well, a cultivar. See? A search through the full text of the New King James Version brings up six different Hebrew words and one Greek word for “plant” (the noun):

chatsiyr – grass, leek, green grass, herbage; of the quickly perishing
yowneq – sucker, suckling, sapling, young plant
neta – plantation, plant, planting
tsemach – sprout, growth, branch, shoot, growth (of process)
shelach – weapon, missile, sprout, shoot
saruwq – vine tendrils or clusters
phyteia
– a planting, a thing planted, a plant

Way to go. Exciting definitions. We aren’t often referred to as trees, either. I do find it interesting, though, that shelach also means “weapon” and “missile”. Although I haven’t yet tried to discover when those meanings are used (if at all), it hints of a sort of latent potential: We can be dangerous if we’re properly grown.

Anyway, as cultivated plants, we’re planted somewhere, somewhen (yes I know that’s not really a word, but you get the point). And four Hebrew words and one Greek word that have been translated as “plant” (the verb) or “the planting of” (the noun resulting directly from the verb):

matta – place or act of planting; planting; plantation
nata
– to plant, fasten, fix, establish
nathan
– to give, bestow, grant, permit, ascribe, employ, devote, consecrate, dedicate, pay wages, sell, exchange, lend, commit, entrust, give over, deliver up, yield produce, requite to, report, mention, utter, stretch out, extend
shathal
– to plant, transplant; a poetic word

phyteuo
– to plant

It’s interesting how we (the plant/planted) have no active part to play and that even when we’ve been planted, the sense is that even that is undeserved and unearned and only because the gardener has given us permission to live and grow. And with the use of shathal, well – some of us might get moved around. I get the sense that those who refuse to acknowledge Him are living on sufferance.

Like I mentioned in an Aside recently, it’s not a stretch to pick up on the fact that in scripture, Jesus is often referred to as a rock and the Sun of Righteousness, the Holy Spirit is likened to wind or air, God is called the Father of Lights, and Jesus speaks of creating springs of living water in believers – the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Word itself is often referred to as water. These are all freely available to us – our job is to take them in.

Wherever we are at any particular point in time, there will be available to us what we need to live. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And that really makes me think of a passage I’d forgotten about till now:

1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NKJV
17But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

As someone who’s recently started caring for plants, a few things have become quite obvious to me. I really do want to give them what they need to thrive. I do my best to do so. I watch them carefully. I get upset if something harms them (bugs, etc.) and go on a rampage getting rid of the source of the trouble. And I am inordinately pleased when they grow and flower and reproduce.

If I feel this way about the plantings of my hands, how much more does God feel about me, the planting of His hands?

The Fall of Man and The Curse—Part 1

Okay, I’m supposed to be writing one post every week but clearly I have problems with both discipline and clarity of thought when it comes to writing, these days. It’s been way too long since I took time out specifically to research and write, so I supposed it will take a while for me to get into a good rhythm.

A question that has been flitting in and out of my mind for the past few weeks has been the actual consequence of Adam’s (and Eve’s) first sin—what, really, were the contents of that terrible first curse?

Death, some say. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree in Eden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, adding that in the day they ate of it they would surely die. And they died a spiritual death as a result of their disobedience, resulting in the need for Jesus’ eventual redemptive sacrifice. And as a result of their sin, too, women are cursed to be in subordination to men, and to suffer in childbearing, and men are cursed with hard labour when before, work was not work as we know it but a joyful and relaxing activity… and all the earth was also cursed, and all life has been degenerating through the ages to this day, groaning for the Day of the Lord.

Sound familiar?

But… really? I don’t want to appear heretical and I’m not saying this just to be controversial, but when I sit down and read the passages slowly and carefully, in not just one but a few translations of the text, that doesn’t quite seem the case. My favourite study version is the Amplified Version, but here I’m referencing the old King James Version and the New American Standard Bible.

 Genesis 2: 16–17 (KJV)
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

 Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (KJV)
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 2: 16–17 (NASB)
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (NASB)
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life;
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

For those who need a reminder of what humanity was given food-wise from the beginning, or who are just interested and want to know:

Genesis 1:29 (NKJV)
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.

A curse is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something”. There are two Hebrew words for “curse”—arar and qalal—and it is arar that is used in the passage above. Some scholars say arar is the more formal and more serious term.

General reading on the Hebrew concept of “curse” reveals that it’s usually used to indicate one’s position in relation to a lack or absence of God’s favour, and more rarely the presence of His disfavour. Qalal apparently also carries the idea of being made light and contemptible, or to be dishonoured and lightly esteemed.

Clearly the original Hebrew meaning and the modern English meaning don’t quite match. Our English understanding involves the addition of a negative; in the original Hebrew, it actually involves the removal of a positive. There’s a big difference!

So what I now understand from the passages is this (and I’m not saying that anyone should agree; just that this is what I get):

One: Death takes a few forms and occurs at different levels as Adam and Eve clearly lost (gained?) something when they ate the fruit, but they obviously didn’t fall down dead. Physical death is arguably part of it, but in what way and to what extent? What I do think, however, is that mankind wasn’t created immortal—why else would God put the Tree of Life in Eden and later remove Adam and Eve from its presence, citing immortality as the reason? My guess is that we had a lifespan to begin with, but maybe ageing and decay wasn’t a part of the original deal…

Two: It seems like death wasn’t a pronounced curse per se, but a natural result/consequence of eating from that particular tree. God never said “If you eat it I will curse you”; He just said hey, if you eat from that tree, you’ll die. And He didn’t say, “Because of this sin you will return to the dust.” He said, in effect, “You’ll continue to suffer the effects of the curse I’ve spoken over the ground, until the time comes when you return to the dust.” And returning to the English/Hebrew translation issue, I get the feeling that it’s about the disobedience (and what was behind it) and not the eating-from-the-tree per se that resulted in God’s blessing/favour being removed.

 Three: Women are more prone to emotional lows and depression than men, fertility is increased, and childbirth has become laborious and painful, as a result of the curse — there’s no question that this was a pronouncement over Eve because of the part she played in the Fall. So womankind is cursed. “Properly” so.

 Four: Adam/Mankind was not directly cursed. It was the ground that was cursed for Adam’s sin — not him. For all that we have been taught about the man’s sin being greater than the woman’s because he was the one to receive that one rule directly from God and he was there when she received and gave in to temptation, we’re faced here with the fact that based on a simple literal reading of the text, God held Adam less culpable than woman… or at least, it seems so.

 Five: The ground — the earth — is cursed. And man’s “curse” is really much more of a consequence than an actual curse… at least it looks that way right now, I freely admit that my research is only just starting on this topic.

So… what significance does this ultimately have? Well, I don’t know yet. But I’m going to be continuing this study because I feel that to truly understand what Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary meant, and what we are saved from, we need to know what we fell from.