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Volume 14, Issue 5: Virga

Confused Tactics

Matt Whitling

I finally had it in my pocket. Treasured, feared, and disdained—it was mine now, at least for a few glorious moments. I refused to think past those few seconds of risk, danger, and full-bodied exhilaration. Nestled in my sweaty eleven-year-old palm and buried deep in the left pocket of my jeans rested a small glass fuse with a threaded plastic cap on the end. Of course it was of little value considered as a single item, but derived its value from context. It had conclusively been removed from its place of function at the front of the room. The fifth-grade classroom was not large, and soon I had navigated a portentously guilty path back to my desk. More alive than ever before, my senses were sharp, my mission had been an unprecedented success, and a cascading adrenalin rush flooded out all ethical arguments to the contrary.

Our teacher, Mr. Oglethorp, had gingerly and apologetically explained the class rules to us at the beginning of the year. He was teaching us the law of his classroom, and all law revolved around a stop signal in fifth grade. We knew exactly what RED, YELLO, and GREEN meant when they were lit up at their respective times. We knew, more importantly, that Oglethorp loved that stop sign. Great affection was proclaimed by the sparkle in his eye every time he passed it and his caressing touch as he switched on the glossy black toggle. During some particularly stimulating lessons his attention would shift from his students to his stop signal, and he would conclude the lecture gazing deep into the red bulb. This rapture was not shared by his students, however. After the first week, my attention became centered around one small black cap with white writing on it. I knew enough about these sorts of things to understand that this was the very heart, not only of the electrical stop signal, but of Oglethorp himself. It was simply a matter of waiting for the right time.
Many teachers and parents are focused so intently upon some disciplinary gimmick or system, that they overlook the clear teaching of the Scriptures. They hide behind a stop sign, bell, or kitchen-timer in such a way that everyone in the class or home knows that this new gizmo will crumple just as soon and as easily as the adult that is wielding it. The teacher doesn't believe God's precepts on obedience and respect, and the students imitate their teacher well. Oglethorp refused to stand up in front of his class of fifth-graders and proclaim the fact that God had commanded them to respect and honor their parents; and as one who had been delegated parental authority, that meant God had commanded them to obey Oglethorp as well. Instead he smiled like a whipped puppy and flashed lights, while his troops plotted against him.
In all matters of discipline, fathers and teachers should pattern their approach after our heavenly Father. God has given us an example of how a father should discipline his children, and He is that example (Deut. 8:5). We are in turn commanded to take heed and imitate Him (Eph. 5:1). One of the first disciplinary actions that we see God involved in with His people is when He teaches them in the garden. "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat." There are a number of lessons we can learn from God in the way that He teaches.
First, God's commands are clear. His expectations are straight forward and simple to understand. He did not leave it up to His children to decipher some complex equation in order to understand when it was acceptable to eat of which trees. The application should be obvious. Are our expectations clear, or do we have varying requirements depending upon what we had for lunch or what our boss did or didn't say to us on that particular afternoon?
God's commands are also preparatory. He prepares His children by teaching them (presenting the law) before the temptation is encountered. God does not wait until Eve has eaten of the forbidden fruit and handed it to Adam before He presents the law, "By the way, don't eat of that fruit that you have there in your hands and that your heart is already set upon." Many parents exert the majority of their disciplinary efforts after their child has sinned, resulting in commands that are almost never preparatory. Teaching takes place at the worst imaginable time, when the tastebuds are already roaring and juice is running in rivers down the child's chin.
Finally, God's commands are not always positive. After bringing his children out of Egypt, God gives the Law to Moses—ten commandments written on a tablet. He communicates clearly what they are to do and what they are not to do—two positive commands, eight negative commands. Christian parents and educators are so infatuated with the latest psycho-buffoonery that we completely ignore the Scriptures in this area as we trot off to affirm our child's self-worth and value. Children grow up void of any foundational antithesis between good and evil when commands are exclusively positive. Conversely, a vacuum is created when law consists strictly of prohibitions that stretch the one who obeys into a thinner soul because faithfulness has been defined entirely by subtraction. Commands to little ones should be balanced in such a way that obedience in the midst of temptation can be clearly seen as a beautiful lighted path through a dark wood.
Oglethorp checked the power cord two or three times before he glanced with a perplexed shyness out at the audience. A wave of guilt rushed in and drowned my conscience in the backwaters. Never had my pocket been so full and so heavy.

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