Flies or Children?

The following concerns how one sees oneself when unceremoniously dumped into a less than ideal situation: am I a dirty, hairy, worthless fly, or a beloved child dealt a painful but sobering blow?

In other words, am I with the stricken and woeful King Lear, infamously betrayed by two of his daughters while having unfeelingly rejected the third one who loved him? In his suffering, he says, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” He seemed to think the gods tortured people for fun as boys tortured unsuspecting insects like flies, ants, etc. to sate their curiosity. (Apparently I have some fascination with Lear, as I found two other previous posts on this!)

If not Lear’s perspective, then might I have a more sober view of myself as one who could use some discipline, and a more reverent view of God than to see Him as a wanton boy looking for cheap curiosities and thrills?

The following passage from the Letter to the Hebrews makes me want to read it all in a sitting!

Do Not Grow Weary

[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
[12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [15] See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; [16] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. [17] For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

(Hebrews 12:3-17 ESV)

3 Things of Interest

  1. I’m not that interested in my holiness, on a standardized scale. Perhaps relative to a handful or more of people I could think of, I’m more interested in my holiness than they are in theirs. Nevertheless, as the author of Hebrews points out (correctly), in my struggle against sin I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding my blood. Touché.
  2. To our benefit (in most cases), we receive painful discipline from our legal and loving guardians, a.k.a. parents. We also reserve our energies and thoughtfulness to express the painful truth to those we love, not to any old acquaintance. We expect nothing less than the painful truth from those we trust. (“Do I look stupid wearing/doing this?”) Shallower words are for shallower relationships. Hence, we can expect painful discipline from a holy and loving God who wants us to be holy, like Him. (Romans 8:28-30)
  3. Pain always sucks because it hurts. There’s not really a way to go around this predicament or sugarcoat it. But as for the pain of God’s discipline for the followers of Jesus Christ, his adopted children, at least we know that this pain will eventually yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

1 Thing to Keep in Mind for the Rest of Life

  1. I am not yet holy enough for God to stop disciplining me. (Not even after next time. Or the time after that.)

I happily self-identify as a beloved child of God! I am no fly :)

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Discipline and Punish

Positive reinforcement. Encouragement. Suggestions. Warnings. Consequences. Time outs.

Some educators and parents I have come across in Canada/North America tend to be more lenient than your average Asian (or other culture) regarding discipline. Some don’t believe in punishment. ‘Learning should be positive.’ Aye, instead of telling people what not to do all the time, we should be suggesting what they should do. That is a splendid way of being positive yet corrective. Still, I submit that punishment in the right context is essential for a good parent/educator:

  1. Punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love. (Love the person, not the behaviour.)
  2. Those subject to punishment must be made aware of the possibility and consequence of punishment.
  3. Punishment should take the individual into consideration. (What is the person’s track record?)
  4. Punishment must be proportionate to the transgression.
  5. Punishment needs to be reasoned, not emotional.

I am inclined to claim with confidence that punishment meted out from someone also giving unconditional love is more appreciated than tolerance from someone not giving an assurance of unconditional love. I feel this topic is too vast for me to expand upon with the amount of thought I have given it (some 15 minutes on and off) but that bold line, that punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love I believe to be key. Without unconditional love there is nothing to discuss as far as educational/growth related punishment goes. (Not really talking about legal punishment.)

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The system that God has going with us reflects all these things. Given, the ultimate punishment for sin (death) Christ himself suffered for us [1], but God allows suffering (a consequence of punishment) to take place in the world (suffering being the residue of sin/misbehaviour) for our good [2]. We are made aware of eternal life vs eternal separation from God through God’s revealed word, but even without it, we are aware of our mortalness [3]. God deals with each person according to the individual and everything we do is relevant. [4] God does not function according to moods as we do [5].

[1] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
[2] For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 6:23. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… -Romans 5:3-4
[3] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. -John 3:36
[4] Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” – Ezekiel 33:20 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. – Matthew 16:27
[5] “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 20:21  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

Disclaimer: This post has barely anything to do with Foucault’s text. I just wanted to make a literary reference to a text that gives a negative idea of discipline and punishment for the purpose of ironic juxtaposition.

If life is painful and God is loving…

… why would LovingGod let us have PainfulLife, knowing we would screw up and let the world run amok with sinfulness?

Children. That’s the thought of the day.

It came from somewhat unrelated reading on Augustine’s Confessions, quoted below for your perusal, if you’re interested in the thought process. The Confessions are basically Augustine’s prayers of confession to God that he recorded.

In those years I lived with a woman who was not bound to me by lawful marriage; she was one who had come my way because of my wandering desires and my lack of considered judgment; nevertheless, I had only this one woman and I was faithful to her. And with her I learned by my own experience how great a difference there is between the self-restraint of the marriage covenant which is entered into for the sake of having children, and the mere pact made between two people whose love is lustful and who do not want to have children – even though, if children are born, they compel us to love them…

I say this reading is unrelated because the main thing I wanted to draw from it was the idea of people wanting to have children and bring them up. The average person knows their share of pain in life, though some people lead more painful lives than others. Still, no one will really stop a decent kid-loving person wanting to have children with an accusatory, “Now why would you subject kiddie-winkies to the pains of living?”

In fact, we do realise that loving parents want us to be with them,
want to provide for us,
want to always be there for us,
want us to be responsible,
want us to obey them for our good,
want us to face challenges and grow stronger,
want us to enjoy the gifts they make available to us,
want us to trust them,
want to trust us,
want to deal justly with us when we do wrong and to forgive us when we are willing to change,
are pleased to have us reflect their good attributes,
and much more.

A person with parents who really care and love them is not known to let the harshness of life be an issue in determining their estimation of their mother and father’s love. I think a similar principle applies to God although a Heavenly Father is different from a father.

Eternity – and why submit to authority?

Being one who has already embraced the idea of eternity, I find it difficult to identify with any lack of passion for the eternal over the temporal (this life). Carpe diem is a fine phrase – so past cliché that I can return to it and think it fine. But it can embody two very different attitudes to living: do whatever you want today because you might not be around tomorrow; or do whatever you must (which has been prepared in advance for you), even if you don’t like it, and try to enjoy it, because some day you will understand why it had to be done from the One who ordained it.

The first attitude allows action without boundaries. The guide is only desire. The second attitude is one qualified by rules, and assumes an ultimately wise entity-in-charge setting those rules. The guide must be this entity. The power to decide can lie either in you or outside of you.

For me, I don’t think I’ve ever had trouble accepting that my decisions may not be the best. And here is where I think good parenting comes in. Those children with parents who make executive decisions that may not have always been pleasant, but later can be seen to have been for the best – these parents raise children who are deferent to external guides. Parents who are somewhat inadequate in gaining the respect of their children regarding making wise choices for them all – these parents raise more self-sufficient children. Not that the first type raises ‘dependent’ kids or that some self-sufficiency is not good. But parents are the first authority that a child will come across, so they are responsible for forming their children’s attitudes towards authority. That’s why parenting is so crucial, clutch, critical.

I trust external authorities to make good decisions. Faith in something bigger than me is possible, even though I cannot have systematic proof before my eyes whether this entity (God) exists / can make good decisions / wants to make good decisions for me. Instead I will trust the testimony of millions billions worldwide, and in past generations — there is a God, he is good, he is good to me.