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Volume 14, Issue 2: Virga

Squinting Across the Simile

Matt Whitling

Black Nikes chirp on the desktop tearing a math paper in two—the book had already hit the carpet, and the entire class went up in effusive laughter. Ervin lay on the floor in the fetal position, clutching his kidneys and undulating in an uncontrollable fit of delight. One swift bound and there he was, the other one, standing on the desk adjacent to the podium. Another predictably bedlamourous day in Basic Math. The bent figure at the front of the room, the one with the tie on—supposedly in charge—gripped the podium in anticipation of the next leap. Too young for heart attacks, he simply gasped. It happened. More pencils and papers cascaded to the floor. Ervin's friend leaped from desk to desk until he landed next to the door, Nikes first. Ervin still lay jiggling on the floor, prostrate now. The bent one with white knuckles must have spoken, his lips were moving at least, but it's at this point that a deep fog invades the memory.

Many teachers and parents want pointers when it comes to disciplining their kids. When my son says, (you fill in the blank), what should I say back? When my students do ... how should I respond? One lesson that Ervin's friend should teach us is that when it comes to discipline, it's wisest to deal with the principles first. Naturally, the individual cases must be addressed along the way, but unless there is a solid foundation to rest upon and go back to, we are starting from scratch each day. This foundation does not consist of pointers, helpful hints, or trouble-shooting techniques.
God's Word sets the paradigm for discipline, both in the classroom and at home. And in His Word we find a number of comparisons between the way that God disciplines His covenant people and the way that fathers should discipline their own children. "Thou shalt consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee" (Deut. 8:5). In this simile the children of God are commanded to consider two pictures. The first is that of a father chastening his son, and the second is like it, the Father chastening His children. We are told that the relationship between the two is similar. It would be ludicrous for us to assume that God imitates man in the way that He disciplines His covenant children, and Ephesians 5:1 makes clear that God the Father sets the paradigm for all earthly fathers to imitate. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
Similes like this are figurative circus-mirrors, used to reflect a particular face in an atypical way so that it can be seen and understood more clearly. Because human fathers find themselves and their sons in this simile, it is only natural that they should squint across the chasm at the opposing mirror and learn from it. Whatever godly discipline looks like, it can be seen between God the Father and His children. In other words, God the Father dictates how earthly fathers should discipline their children by showing them His example. Of course this is nothing new, fathers always teach their children by example, and children always learn by imitation. These principles clearly point to the fact that godly discipline is dependent upon the disciplinarian knowing God. Apart from a knowledge of God, there is no faithful paradigm to imitate.
Given this context, it should be no surprise that those in the Christian church today, especially her leaders, are lousy disciplinarians. The way that we discipline our children is simply an echo of what we believe we see on the other side of the simile. Smith thinks that God's call is ineffectual, it follows that Smith's call in his home is ineffectual as well. He believes that God is soft, mild, and impotently detached, and in like manner he bathes his children in the same sludge. He believes that God loses sheep from his flock regularly, and therefore Smith is not surprised when he loses his own children. After all, it's up to the sheep to stay in the flock. What's a shepherd to do when one or two wander off, but shake, worry, and dribble on himself over the hard luck that has befallen them. "We did everything we could." Fathers need to look across the simile and repent of the idol they see staring them in the face. Without a clear understanding of who the Father is, we are left to our own disfigured imagination of whom to imitate.
The "bent one with the tie" wanted some sort of magic wand (or other projectile) that he could wave over these students in order to make them behave. Like him, many teachers and parents are after some sort of technique that will guarantee success with or without a foundation to stand on and build upon. Ervin eventually gained ballast and crawled back into his desk, moist nostrils and flushed face all aglow. However, it was only moments before he joined Nate at the door. Two good friends laughing their way to the SRC (Student Responsibility Center)—that special room which conveyed upon all who entered the golden virtues of responsibility, respectfulness, and a hoot'n good time tooling leather and playing "The Stock Market Game." Those shoes will be back.

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