The Character of God as Father 4 — Patient Guidance and Increasing Accountability

 

     I would say that one of the chief hallmarks of godly parenting is the patient acceptance that it takes time and effort and many mistakes before their children can learn and do what is being communicated to them.  Like it or not, our children are not born with an adult understanding of the concepts of obedience and loving behavior.  That takes years of training, and no decent parent would ever expect their 2 year old to show the same self-awareness or have the same level of self-control as a teenager.  Unfortunately, and perhaps this is the result of our being increasingly separated from others, with smaller and smaller families living far from their relatives, many people are unequipped to know what to reasonably expect from small children due to a lack of cultural experience.  An only, or youngest, child, for example, would be quite at a loss.  As a result, we have become increasingly impatient with the learning process, wanting the kids to shape up and get with the program as soon as possible.  It never occurs to many that it takes years for the human brain to become mature enough to start to want to do what we wish it would naturally do — often because we are not really interested in the day to day training up of children.  We want football stars and college graduates, and often push them through the stages leading up to that with the iron hand of impatience.

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     But this is not how we see God operating.  In the garden, Adam was given one do and one don’t and was told the consequences.  He was told to guard “shawmar” the garden and was told not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  I find it interesting, therefore, that God did not rebuke him for failing to guard the garden — after all, Adam was the one who let in the deceiver!  Adam’s failure in this regard introduced evil into their midst and his wife suffered for it and fell into deception, and then Adam fell into disobedience.  Now, did God destroy them and start over?  No, they were children.  He removed them from access to the Tree of Life, and placed them outside of Eden.  He told them the consequences, that the ground was cursed, and told Eve that they would bring up  children in pain.  And we see this is true — the world has been greatly corrupted by the mixing of that which is good and evil, initiated by Adam allowing evil into the garden and Eve being deceived by that evil.  And we see that what could have been a beautiful existence in the garden raising children who were truly innocent, was marred by pain and tragedy.

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     Here is what we do not see in the account.  We do not see God jumping on Adam’s back when he starts getting lax about who he allows in the garden and who he allows to associate with his wife.  Adam is given a chance to get things right, and he does not, which leads to trouble.  Eve was not careful about who she was talking with, and started questioning God after listening to someone who was questioning Him.  Both of them showed a lack of discernment in their actions, but they were allowed to make mistakes without a constant barrage of insults and impatient nagging.  When the mistakes came, God did not insult them, he corrected them and implemented the consequences, some of which they could not have foreseen.  Certainly Adam had been told that he would surely die, but he didn’t know that to God, a day is as a thousand years.  He had no concept that suffering for what we would consider almost an eternity was even among the options.  Certainly if he had perceived that, if he had had experience, he would have probably have moved heaven and earth to drive the serpent from the garden as soon as he started talking trash, or maybe even before that.  But how could Adam relate to the idea of having to work hard, or even sweating, or suffering, or imagine what it was like to raise a bunch of rugrats who oppose you at every step and sometimes end up committing murder?  Adam had never seen sin before, he had never seen consequence before, and so like a child, he couldn’t really fully grasp the consequences of his actions.

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     Did God set them up to fail?  No more so than we set up our children to fail by simply bringing innocent beings into this world.  And so, in parenting, we need to look at the example set for us by God.  Firm guidance, no constant nagging, allow failure, discipline but do not tear down, and then stick with them through the consequences of their failures.  This is how we handle children.  This is also how God, and how we, should handle new believers — as small children.  What I described above it the epitome of the union of grace and law.  Yes there are standards, but grace abounds in a loving paternal way.  God never overreacts, or moves in a hasty manner, or demands more than we have the maturity to give Him.

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     As we move our way through the scriptures we come across many examples where God holds His children to increasingly greater standards, based on their level of maturity.  Again, this is a sound, perfectly reasonable parenting practice.  Toddlers are more understanding and controlled than babies, as youth are over toddlers and teens are over youth.  Greater understanding, more self-control, more responsibility, more freedom — greater consequences.

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     In the Torah, we see that the laws concerning children are very few as compared to the laws which govern adults.  In the book of Acts, we see the same pattern in effect in chapter 15 — the laws governing new believers are few compared to the laws they would learn when Moses was taught each Sabbath.  In this ruling by the Jerusalem council, they followed the parenting principles outlined in Torah.  Now, lets look at Abraham, a man who started out as the son of an idolater (Joshua 24:2) and ended his life as our collective father in the faith, who walked in greater and greater measures of both law and freedom through faith.

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     We are introduced to Abram in Genesis 11, who lived in what we would now call Babylon, Nimrod’s pagan kingdom.  The first recorded contact between Abram and God is when God speaks to him and tells him to leave his life — He gives a command and a promise.

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12 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

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     So God, (1) tells Abram to leave his pagan land, and his family, and (2) tells him to start walking.  But Abram disobeyed and took Lot — a decision that repeatedly worked out badly for Abram.  But we see no evidence that God was nagging him about it all the way to Caanan, and it is my belief that Abram took Lot because he had no son, it may even be that according to ancient near east tradition, he had formally adopted Lot and made him his heir.  But that isn’t written down, just my hunch.

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     Now, they came to the Land and due to a famine, decided to go south to Egypt.  While in Egypt, Abram concocts a lie designed to save his own life.  As Sarai his wife is very  beautiful, he asks her to say she is his sister so they will not kill Abram and seize her.  Now, I am not condemning Abraham, he was what we call a new believer.  He had a promise that he would be a great nation, but he didn’t believe it yet, otherwise he would not have feared for his life.  I can totally relate to this inability to trust in promises, I think we all can.  Again, we do not see God nagging Abram about this being a bad idea, God is going to let Abram fail and learn from the consequences.  So Sarai is taken, and Abram had to deal with that, and a whole lot of Egyptians suffered for it as well when plagues came down upon Pharoah’s house.  Worst of all, when the lie was discovered and Sarai was set free — they came out of the deal with an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar.  Like Lot, Hagar caused a lot of trouble as well.

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     We see a pattern emerging, sin followed by short term consequence followed by completely unforeseeable long term consequences, and yet what we should also see is that Abram was never smacked around or abandoned by God.

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     It is directly after this event that Lot’s presence starts becoming a problem, our first long term consequence and our first evidence of why Abram was told to leave his family behind.  We have strife between the family groups which leads to separation, which eventually leads to Abram having to go to war in order to rescue Lot.  All of this, of course, was entirely preventable and unforeseeable.  But part of Abram’s walk was learning that God sees the unforeseen, it was part of growing up.

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     In Genesis 15, we see something remarkable happen — despite his failures, he has continued walking with God faithfully.  God repeats His promise that Abram will be a great nation, and cuts a covenant with him.  And Abram believed Him.

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     But in Genesis 16 we see that although Abram believed God, Abram did not yet understand that God Himself brings about those things He promises if we are simply faithful and obey and wait upon Him.  Abram, encouraged by Sarai, takes matters into his own hands and takes Hagar as his concubine.  Hagar’s pregnancy turns out to be a disaster due to her prideful rebellion in the wake of it, and of course the fruit of that union, Ishmael, continues to plague the world to this day.  All this the unforeseeable consequence of one lie in Egypt.

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     In Genesis 17, we see the covenant of circumcision, and the names of Abram and Sarai are changed to Abraham and Sarah.  God tells Abraham that Sarah will bear him the promised son, even though Ishmael is now 13 years old.  I can imagine that only now does Abraham start to see how far he has strayed from the original plan that God had to make Him the father of “a nation” because now the promise is that he will be the father of “many nations.”  God never said, “Because you screwed up and disobeyed.”  Abraham probably figured that out already, but God in His fatherly mercy was making allowances for the situation as it was, even though the long term consequences were still there.

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     In Genesis 20, Abraham lied to Abimelech and Sarah was taken again into captivity, same exact lie he told in Egypt even though he had just been promised that he and Sarah would have a baby in the coming year — sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.  In Genesis 21, Isaac was finally born, and Ishmael was sent away, probably Abraham’s most painful consequence of distrust.  However, Abraham, under God’s gentle guidance, was growing in maturity.  We know this because of what happens in Genesis 22.

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     Now before we get to what happens, I want to state that we never have an example of God raging against Abraham, no matter how badly he screwed up, no matter what sort of immaturity he exhibited.  Why?  Because there is a difference between immaturity and rebellion.  The prophets preached against the rebellious, not the immature.  We must always be careful to discern the difference between someone who lacks maturity vs someone who is willfully rebellious.  A harsh word that might turn around the rebellious might needlessly discourage and crush someone who is failing and yet trying their best.

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     In Genesis 22, Abraham is told to sacrifice his own son as an olah, a whole burnt offering.  Scholars believe that this was probably at least 30 years later, and by this time Abraham had seen God keep every promise he had ever made, in fact, the Word tells us later that Abraham had such deep trust in God at this point that he was sure that if he sacrificed his son, that God would resurrect him in order to keep the promises of a nation through him.  Abraham had reached full maturity.

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     Wow, what a difference, and what an amazing story of parenting.  May we all endeavor to live up to His exalted example.  And may Messiah reign over an age where all children are parented this way.

Copyright Darlene Dine reproduction without permission is prohibited
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