Faces of Love-Agape

While Till We Faces primarily illustrates love becoming a god rather than God is love, it ends on the same note as The Four Loves, with a description of Divine love. Lewis skillfully takes the reader deep inside love, leaving the noise of technology behind so we understand more fully what love is. Understanding love in all its complexity is the beginning for many who are blinded by the current culture. Perhaps the best lesson we can glean from Till We Have Faces is we cannot love God or anyone until we love ourselves.

As we discuss the two presentations of love in The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, we must consider the negative elements of love that Lewis’s presents in both books. Lewis emphasizes that “our imitation of God in this life…must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is Jesus…of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions…the Divine life operating under human conditions.”[1]  He says this to introduce the idea that “love begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” Recognizing this distinction is important to maintain the truth that “God is love” rather than moving toward, “love is God.”[2] As Lewis warns, any of the natural loves can become gods and seem to have the voice of God.

Lewis provides vivid and compelling examples of the complexity of love turned into gods through Orual’s relationships.  Orual’s demons were self-inflicted through her distorted sense of love. Because the gods were silent, she made Friendship, Need-love and in a distorted way, Eros became her gods.  As Ansit revealed, Orual devoured Bardia by demanding his presence through manipulation.  What Orual perceived as a Friendship, was a demon that destroyed her Friend.  In the encounter with Ansit, Orual is surprised to realize her feelings for Bardia are more than Friendship. She loved him, but selfishly. Although the Fox was Orual’s mentor, grandfather, and friend, Orual saw only that she needed him. She wanted him to herself with no regard for his welfare.  The same selfish, all consuming love causes her to rip Psyche’s happiness away.  Need-love dominated everything and destroyed her relationships until some were restored in the end of the story.

There is a striking similarity to both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces in that, the final pages describe Charity [Divine love]  In The Four Loves he returns to the scripture from John which states, “God is love.”[3] In the propositional narrative, Lewis argues that “God as the Creator of nature, implants in us both Gift-Loves and Need-Loves.”[4] Lewis describes the three methods of giving and receiving love as “Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even suffer for God; Appreciative love says: ‘We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.’[5] Lewis admits that “the three elements of love mix and succeed one another, moment by moment… none…except Need-love ever exists alone, for more than a few seconds.”[6]  According to Lewis, through Charity “natural love is taken up into, made the tuned instrument of, Love Himself.”[7]  Similarly, Lewis uses metaphors of caves, silent darkness, rocks, and light to describe Orual’s conversion experience. Orual wanted the God’s to answer her complaint. She wanted them to speak, but after she had voiced her complaint repeatedly, she realized, “The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered.”[8]  Through Orual’s experience, perhaps Lewis helps the reader understand the value of listening to those who doubt or are angry at God. 

Continuing the discussion of Divine love, Lewis argues in The Four Loves, “Thus God, admitted to the heart, transforms not only Gift-love but Need-love; not only our Need-love of Him but our Need-love of one another… natural loves are summoned to become modes of Charity while also remaining the natural loves they were.”[9] God transforms us but does not remove the natural loves. Instead, He changes us to instruments of His love.  The key phrase in Lewis’s statement is “admitted to the heart” not forced or coerced, but admitted. Lewis uses Orual’s elaborate vision illustrate God’s transforming grace. In the vision, Orual realizes that voicing her complaint and being heard is the long awaited answer to the riddle that plagues her.  By accepting the “answer,” she is transformed, her anger fades, and she sees her true self, much as God sees each of us because of Christ’s sacrifice. 

Supernatural Divine Appreciative is the one element of Divine love that Lewis briefly describes in The Four Loves, but he beautifully illustrates in the last pages of Till We Have Faces. In The Four Loves, Lewis writes, “He [God] can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural Appreciative love…here, not in our natural loves…lies the true centre of all human and angelic life. With this all things are possible.”[10] Lewis expresses his inadequacy in discussing this grandest of all loves because he has never “tasted this love.” However, in the last pages of Till We Have Faces, Lewis exquisitely captures Orual’s expression at the sight of Psyche, “Joy silenced me. And I thought I had now come to the highest, and to the most fullness of being which the human soul can contain.”[11] Just moments later Orual speaks of a greater love, “the earth and stars and sun, all that was or will be, existed for his sake. And he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is, was coming. The pillars on the far side of the pool flushed with his approach. I cast down my eyes.”[12]  Here, Lewis guides the reader into an incredible scene through the eyes of the heroine through perfectly chosen words and descriptions. We can almost “feel” him coming as Orual describes the approach, much like a song that evokes the emotion of indescribable beauty.   Once again, Lewis uses the imaginative form to say what he struggles to express propositionally.

When discussing Lewis’s presentations of love in both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, it is important to consider possible apologetic implications of Lewis’s use of propositional and imaginative form to address the subject of love. In the 21st century, we are competing with Social Media and other technology which is often overwhelming. When someone can “Google” any topic brought up in a conversation in real time, engagement becomes difficult.  For engagement to occur, Multiple tools are necessary. Just as Orual’s answer from the gods in Till We Have Faces was ultimately voicing her complaint without interruption, many skeptics have a “complaint” against God that we must hear before they will “hear” anything we say. Earlier, Orual fails to understand the miracle of Psyche’s rescue partially because there was “no answer” to her complaint.  She remains full of self-doubt and self-loathing and cannot see the beauty and wonder of Psyche’s new life and love.  During the initial encounter in the hidden palace Psyche wisely stopped the argument when she realized Orual could not understand.   Another skeptic who is struggling with Divine love may need Lewis’s propositional description that Divine love lifts us out of the natural loves and makes us an instrument of His love. Still another may respond best to a combination of rational and imaginative presentation.  Lewis skillfully demonstrates through these two books that there is no “one size fits all” method for describing love or God to a skeptic, and it is important for 21st-century apologists to acquire sufficient tools for the task.

While neither of these books are simple, the underlying message rings true. Love is a complex and multi-faceted subject that cannot be explained in short quotes found on Social Media.  Lewis provides a comprehensive look at the complexity of love through his propositional work, The Four Loves, and his imaginative work, Till We Have Faces.   While both books are engaging and relevant on their own merits, together they provide a more complete presentation of love.  Although these books were written before the Internet age, the metaphorical and descriptive language may succeed in grabbing the attention of those who describe love as love. Lewis’s captivating dialogue in Till We Have Faces mesmerizes even the most reluctant reader.  I can imagine my grandson reading this book with some sort of video game on his mind. The language of myth stimulates imagination which makes the introduction of the propositional descriptions of The Four Loves easier to convey.  In some sense, Till We Faces is like a metaphor of the thoughts presented in The Four Loves.  While Till We Faces primarily illustrates love becoming a god rather than God is love, it ends on the same note as The Four Loves, with a description of Divine love.  Lewis skillfully takes the reader deep inside love, leaving the noise of technology behind so we understand more fully what love is. Understanding love in all its complexity is the beginning for many who are blinded by the current culture. Perhaps the best lesson we can glean from Till We Have Faces is we cannot love God or anyone until we love ourselves.


[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 126.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 127.

[8] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 288.

[9] Lewis, The Four Loves, 133.

[10] Lewis, The Four Loves, 140.

[11] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 307.

[12] Ibid.

The Faces of Love-Eros

Lewis’s discussion of Eros is perhaps the most complex and yet most relevant of all the loves, in both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces. Of all the loves, Eros ignites the most emotion for it is what Lewis describes as “being in love.”[1]

Part 3 of a four part series based on an essay I wrote a few years ago. In this segment, I discuss eros or romantic love.

Love is a universal subject for writers, artists, and musicians both past and present. However, current media often presents love as sex and sex as love.  Social media creates a new expression of love through the click of a button on a smartphone.  Commercials for sexual enhancement and performance products appear on prime time television.  Sex is no longer taboo to prime time television rather the more sex, the higher the ratings.  Relationships change daily on Social Media with a single entry.  Our attempts to define love devolve into meaningless memes on Social Media that reflect our attempt to oversimplify the complexity of love. While engaging the hurried, hurt confused and often angry skeptics of our current culture presents a significant challenge, adding Devine Love to the equation increases the difficulty. Somehow, we need to slow down, take a deep breath and turn off the smartphones long enough to experience and understand the complex subject of love. Fortunately, C.S. Lewis was a master of slowing down the hurried mind with profound, provocative and engaging writing. In keeping with his style, Lewis offers two books that address the subject of love in unique yet complementary ways, a propositional work, The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, a rewriting of the Psyche and Cupid myth.  While in The Four Loves, Lewis adapts four Greek terms to present a propositional explanation of love, he brings the terms to life in Till We Have Faces by drawing the reader into the experience of the characters. While each book eloquently depicts love’s complexity, the rational approach to defining love found in The Four Loves and the imaginative approach of Till We Have Faces enhance each other to provide a complete understanding of the nature and complexity of love.

Lewis’s discussion of Eros is perhaps the most complex and yet most relevant of all the loves, in both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces. Of all the loves, Eros ignites the most emotion for it is what Lewis describes as “being in love.”[1] He quickly distinguishes Eros from sexuality by saying that “Sexuality may operate without Eros or as part of Eros…My treatment rules out mere sexuality-sexuality without Eros-on the grounds that have nothing to do with morals; because it is irrelevant to our purpose.”[2] Throughout the discussion of Eros in The Four Loves, Lewis attempts to distinguish between Venus (sexuality) and Eros, “a delighted pre-occupation with the Beloved—a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.”[3]  Similarly, Lewis describes Eros through Orual’s thoughts during her second trip to the Grey Mountain. Although she refuses to yield to the possibility, Orual considers that she “should leave[Psyche] alone”[4] because “She is ten times happier,” [5] when she makes her second trip to the Grey Mountain.  Orual wrongfully concludes that “there is a deeper love than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved.”[6] Orual dismisses the existence of Eros because, at the time, she cannot comprehend such love.  The reader feels Psyche’s sorrow that her sister doesn’t understand the love she has for her husband, much like 21st-century apologist attempting to explain love to a young person, who can barely look up from their phone.  While the propositional language of The Four Loves may not engage the young person, Psyche’s plight might interest them simply because it is a provocative story of love.


[1] Lewis, The Four Loves, 91.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid.,94.

[4] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 138.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lewis, The Four Loves, 121.

The Faces of Love-Affection

This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote in 2017 comparing and contrasting two book by C. S. Lewis, “Till We have Faces” and “The Four Loves.” Both books address the complexity of love, one is imaginative and the other propositional. I used the essay as a basic for my YouTube Videos this week as I discussed the Advent theme of love. This is the first of four posts from the essay.

Love is a universal subject for writers, artists, and musicians both past and present. However, current media often presents love as sex and sex as love.  Social media creates a new expression of love through the click of a button on a smartphone.  Commercials for sexual enhancement and performance products appear on prime time television.  Sex is no longer taboo to prime time television rather the more sex, the higher the ratings.  Relationships change daily on Social Media with a single entry.  Our attempts to define love devolve into meaningless memes on Social Media that reflect our attempt to oversimplify the complexity of love. While engaging the hurried, hurt confused and often angry skeptics of our current culture presents a significant challenge, adding Devine Love to the equation increases the difficulty. Somehow, we need to slow down, take a deep breath and turn off the smartphones long enough to experience and understand the complex subject of love. Fortunately, C.S. Lewis was a master of slowing down the hurried mind with profound, provocative and engaging writing. In keeping with his style, Lewis offers two books that address the subject of love in unique yet complementary ways, a propositional work, The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, a rewriting of the Psyche and Cupid myth.  While in The Four Loves, Lewis adapts four Greek terms to present a propositional explanation of love, he brings the terms to life in Till We Have Faces by drawing the reader into the experience of the characters. While each book eloquently depicts love’s complexity, the rational approach to defining love found in The Four Loves and the imaginative approach of Till We Have Faces enhance each other to provide a complete understanding of the nature and complexity of love thereby, providing a some insight for those struggling to understand love and all its complexity.

Lewis clearly expresses the difficulty of defining love when he begins The Fours Loves with, “God is love,” says St. John. When I first tried to write this book, I thought that his maxim would provide me with a very plain highroad through the whole subject. “[1] He soon discovers the complexity of the topic and begins the internal conversations that ultimately lead him to the four terms for love: Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity adapted from the Greek terms Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape. Even so, Lewis does not stop with the four terms; he also includes the terms Need-love, Gift-Love, Appreciative Love as methods of expressing and receiving love. Lewis describes each term in detail, providing metaphorical and imaginative examples for each throughout the remainder of the book. Without reading Till We Have Faces, the reader of The Four Loves would have a basic understanding of each term, butthe mythical tale provides added insight and understanding for each term.

          Beginning with Affection, we see how the imaginative style of Till We Have Faces, breathes life into the description presented in The Four Loves, thus enhancing the reader’s understanding of the term. In The Four Loves Lewis describes affection as “a mother nursing a baby; … a cat with a basketful of… kittens;” [2] In a similar manner, through Lewis’s description of Orual’s first encounter’s with the infant Psyche,  “I soon had the child out of their hands. I got for her a nurse a free woman, a peasant’s wife, as honest and wholesome as I could find, and after that, both were in my own chamber day and night…I lost more sleep looking on Psyche for the joy of it than in any other way,”[3] we experience mother-daughter Affection through the eyes of Orual, Psyche’s surrogate mother.  We readily accept the level of affection expressed by Orual for Psyche because the language takes us into the bed chamber with Orual to gaze upon the beautiful Psyche through Orual’s eyes. Orual’s experiences become our experience.

To Be Cont’d…


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1988), 32.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1984), 21.

[3] Ibid.

The Problem of Evil-Revisited

This short essay was originally posted in December 2018. Since then, I began writing my memoir. Last week I wrote a chapter about the experience in the epigram. Doing so reminded me of this piece. As I write my memoir I am even more convinced that God can turn what seems to be senseless evil into a powerful testimony of redemption and hope. 

Note: This short essay was originally posted in December 2018. Since then, I began writing my memoir. Last week I wrote a chapter about the experience in the epigram. Doing so reminded me of this piece. As I write my memoir I am even more convinced that God can turn what seems to be senseless evil into a powerful testimony of redemption and hope. 

A 9-year old girl lay sobbing on soiled sheets trying desperately to escape her fate. “You failed again; you are worthless! Get back down there! Maybe you’ll get it right after a few days in the cellar!” Uncle Ray shouted as the child covered her face to avoid his fist. She begged him to give her another chance. Slowly, she navigated the steps as the door to cellar slammed shut above her. “Next time I’ll do it right,” she promised, “next time I will pretend I like the game.”

I am the child

The child in the story is not a random child whose story is chronicled to illustrate the problem of evil by pointing out that a good God would not allow pointless evil towards children. The above story is about me. I am the child in the story who endured abuse perpetrated by multiple people from age 5-18. When I watched a video of Christopher Hitchens, a 20th-century atheist, describe a child who experienced horrible neglect and abuse for most of her life, l recalled my own experience. Similarly, when Hitchens commented that the child “must have pleaded, must have prayed. She must have felt if heaven did watch it, it watched with indifference,”[1]  I recalled how I did plead. I did pray. While the prayers did not stop the abuse at the hands of my father, uncle, or others, I never felt that heaven watched with indifference.[2] My belief in Christ sustained me. In the same video, Jerry Walls, a Christian apologist and scholar, responds to Hitchens challenge by saying, “God is furious…Yes, God hated that, but God gave us freedom, and we can do atrocious things with that freedom, but I’m not writing you off…God has the power to redeem the worst atrocities that have been laid out.”[3] Not all philosophers and theologians agree with Walls response, but as Evans and Manis argue in The Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith, “Of all the objections to theism presented by atheists, the most celebrated and oft-rehearsed…is the problem of evil.”[4] For centuries, philosophers and theologians have attempted to formulate and respond to the problem of evil. Several formulations remain common topics of discussion and debate including, the logical form, the evidential form, and the emotional form. While the logical form and the evidential form address the problem of evil from a logical perspective, the emotional problem of evil resonates most strongly with me because the form addresses the problem as a question for concern which creates a stronger foundation for discussion with believers and non-believers regarding the problem of evil.

Does Pointless Evil exist?

The emotional problem of evil approaches the problem as a question for concern by focusing on the struggle to reconcile what we believe and understand about God with the anguish we experience when we encounter the evidence of pointless evil. The emotional formulation is perhaps best articulated in ‘Rebellion,’ a chapter from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In the chapter, Ivan Karamazov protests that though he comprehends theodicy, and accepts that God is real, he cannot accept God because of the burden of his heart for human suffering and pain.[5] Ivan supports his objection by describing multiple atrocities involving children. Ivan argues, “I took the case of children only to make my case clearer…If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it…It is beyond comprehension why they should suffer, and why they would pay for the harmony.”[6] In The Doors of the Sea, David Hart explains that Ivan believed, “every heart will be satisfied, all anger soothed, the debt of every crime discharged, and everyone made capable of forgiving every offense and even finding a justification for every offense that has ever happened to mankind; and still he rejects the world that God has made and that final harmony with it.”[7]

Of Evil

At the core of the emotional problem of evil is Ivan’s concern that “terms of  the final happiness God intends for his creations are greater than [Ivan’s] conscience can bear.”[8] When I cowered alone in the cellar or a locked room with no window, wondering when my tormentor would return, I wondered “why is this happening?” I pleaded to God, “Is there a reason you do not stop them?” I cried until I could cry no more. I saw no purpose to my suffering, yet I consistently held to my belief in God and Christ. Years later as a social worker, I anguished at the atrocities  I witnessed daily. I watched a mother sit emotionless as her infant drew his last breath because she forgot to feed him or the two-year-old child covered in third-degree burns because his stepfather forced him to hold hot pipes as part of toilet training or a twelve-year-old girl whose father molested her daily.  As an adult caught up in behaviors that resulted from years of abuse, I often asked God, “why didn’t you stop the abuse?” For years I struggled to reconcile what I considered pointless evil. Pointless evil haunts many believers and non-believers as they express the question posed by Evans and Manis, “How could a perfectly loving God employ a means of creation that proceeds by way of the systematic destruction of the weakest and most vulnerable creatures?”[9]  The emotional problem of evil questions salvation, and expresses anger at the pointless evil, but does not attempt to disprove God.

While both the logical and evidential problem of evil address the issue from a logical standpoint, they are not existentially sufficient for me.*

The emotional problem of evil resonates most strongly with me because the form addresses the problem as a question for concern rather than an objection to belief in the existence of God. David Hart’s account of Ivan’s lament about the tortured child “weeping her supplications to ‘gentle Jesus,’ begging God to release her from misery,” evokes intense emotions for me because I uttered that prayer so many times during my childhood. However, each time, God sent comfort to me, sometimes in the form of an angel, sometimes through the loving touch of a friend. Where the emotional problem of evil fails is in the assumption that atrocities against the innocent are pointless evil. My life is one example of how seemingly pointless evil can lead to a life of service to others who suffer at the hands of tormentors. Perhaps the most significant example in my life occurred when I was eleven. After giving birth to my father’s child, I hemorrhaged on the bedroom floor. I found out later that EMS declared me dead, but later revived. During the moments I was legally dead, I experienced what I believe was the outer court of heaven. Jesus told me that I had to return because I had more to do. I remember begging Jesus to let me stay with him, but he refused.

I did not fully understand why I had to come back, and I was angry, but I obeyed. Years later as I began my healing journey, I realized what Jesus meant when he said I had more to do. As David Hart points out, “for the Christian, Ivan’s argument…provides a kind of spiritual hygiene; …a solvent as well of the obdurate fatalism of the theistic determinist, and of the confidence of rational theodicy, and…of the habitual and unthinking retreat of most Christians to a kind of indeterminate deism.”[19] He concludes that the argument is, therefore, a Christian argument. Through ‘Rebellion,’ Dostoyevsky sees how far more terrible the world would be if the history of suffering and death made sense.[20] ‘Rebellion’ calls Christians to review their approach to the problem of evil and consider whether we need some emotional and spiritual hygiene before addressing the issue with non-believers or hurting believers.

God Can Turn Tragedy into Triumph

While the question of why evil occurs remains unanswered, the emotional problem of evil provides an opportunity for apologists to explore the issue without challenging God’s existence. The emotional problem of evil fails to prove why or if there is pointless evil, but it does provide more comfort than logical explanations. Though it took years, I finally understood and accepted that God did not ignore my pleas for rescue, but he followed the rules of providential guidance. He could not interfere with the free will of those who abused me. However, he did protect me from death and eventually turned what seemed like pointless evil into a powerful testimony of redemption.  The emotional problem of evil can be a useful tool for the apologist if we accept that it is perfectly acceptable not to know all the answers. In other words, accepting God’s providential governance. Perhaps then we can understand Jerry Walls declaration, “Thank God for the problem of evil!”[21]

 * Recommend -Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith by Evans and Manis (listed in footnotes) to learn more about the Logical and evidential form of the problem of evil.

[1]Jerry Walls – Problem of Evil – 2013, https://vimeo.com/112109182 , 2:23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 10:12.

[4] C. Stephen. Evans and R. Zachary. Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 156.

[5] Mary Jo Sharp, email response to Charlotte Thomason, December 10, 2018.

[6] Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame UP, 1992), 65.

[7] David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?(Grand Rapids, MI: William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 38-39.

[8] Ibid, 39.

[9] C. Stephen. Evans and R. Zachary. Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 156.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid, 160.

[12] Mary Jo Sharp, “Post to Weekly Course Outline, Week 7,” Houston Baptist University, Fall, 2018, PDF, Philosophy of Religion Course, accessed December 10, 2018.

[13] Evans et al, 168.

[14] Evans et al, 168.

[15] Ibid, 169.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Hart, 44.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Walls

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Angel in the Cellar

The Problem of Evil

A 9-year old girl lay sobbing on soiled sheets trying desperately to escape her fate. “You failed again; you are worthless! Get back down there! Maybe you’ll get it right after a few days in the cellar!” Uncle Ray shouted as the child covered her face to avoid his fist.

A 9-year old girl lay sobbing on soiled sheets trying desperately to escape her fate. “You failed again; you are worthless! Get back down there! Maybe you’ll get it right after a few days in the cellar!” Uncle Ray shouted as the child covered her face to avoid his fist. She begged him to give her another chance. Slowly, she navigated the steps as the door to cellar slammed shut above her. “Next time I’ll do it right,” she promised, “next time I will pretend I like the game.”

I am the child

The child in the story is not a random child whose story is chronicled to illustrate the problem of evil by pointing out that a good God would not allow pointless evil towards children. The above story is about me. I am the child in the story who endured abuse perpetrated by multiple people from age 5-18. When I watched a video of Christopher Hitchens, a 20th-century atheist, describe a child who experienced horrible neglect and abuse for most of her life, l recalled my own experience. Similarly, when Hitchens commented that the child “must have pleaded, must have prayed. She must have felt if heaven did watch it, it watched with indifference,”[1]  I recalled how I did plead. I did pray. While the prayers did not stop the abuse at the hands of my father, uncle, or others, I never felt that heaven watched with indifference.[2] My belief in Christ sustained me. In the same video, Jerry Walls, a Christian apologist and scholar, responds to Hitchens challenge by saying, “God is furious…Yes, God hated that, but God gave us freedom, and we can do atrocious things with that freedom, but I’m not writing you off…God has the power to redeem the worst atrocities that have been laid out.”[3] Not all philosophers and theologians agree with Walls response, but as Evans and Manis argue in The Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith, “Of all the objections to theism presented by atheists, the most celebrated and oft-rehearsed…is the problem of evil.”[4] For centuries, philosophers and theologians have attempted to formulate and respond to the problem of evil. Several formulations remain common topics of discussion and debate including, the logical form, the evidential form, and the emotional form. While the logical form and the evidential form address the problem of evil from a logical perspective, the emotional problem of evil resonates most strongly with me because the form addresses the problem as a question for concern which creates a stronger foundation for discussion with believers and non-believers regarding the problem of evil.

Does Pointless Evil exist?

The emotional problem of evil approaches the problem as a question for concern by focusing on the struggle to reconcile what we believe and understand about God with the anguish we experience when we encounter the evidence of pointless evil. The emotional formulation is perhaps best articulated in ‘Rebellion,’ a chapter from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In the chapter, Ivan Karamazov protests that though he comprehends theodicy, and accepts that God is real, he cannot accept God because of the burden of his heart for human suffering and pain.[5] Ivan supports his objection by describing multiple atrocities involving children. Ivan argues, “I took the case of children only to make my case clearer…If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it…It is beyond comprehension why they should suffer, and why they would pay for the harmony.”[6] In The Doors of the Sea, David Hart explains that Ivan believed, “every heart will be satisfied, all anger soothed, the debt of every crime discharged, and everyone made capable of forgiving every offense and even finding a justification for every offense that has ever happened to mankind; and still he rejects the world that God has made and that final harmony with it.”[7]

At the core of the emotional problem of evil is Ivan’s concern that “terms of  the final happiness God intends for his creations are greater than [Ivan’s] conscience can bear.”[8] When I cowered alone in the cellar or a locked room with no window, wondering when my tormentor would return, I wondered “why is this happening?” I pleaded to God, “Is there a reason you do not stop them?” I cried until I could cry no more. I saw no purpose to my suffering, yet I consistently held to my belief in God and Christ. Years later as a social worker, I anguished at the atrocities  I witnessed daily. I watched a mother sit emotionless as her infant drew his last breath because she forgot to feed him or the two-year-old child covered in third-degree burns because his stepfather forced him to hold hot pipes as part of toilet training or a twelve-year-old girl whose father molested her daily.  As an adult caught up in behaviors that resulted from years of abuse, I often asked God, “why didn’t you stop the abuse?” For years I struggled to reconcile what I considered pointless evil. Pointless evil haunts many believers and non-believers as they express the question posed by Evans and Manis, “How could a perfectly loving God employ a means of creation that proceeds by way of the systematic destruction of the weakest and most vulnerable creatures?”[9]  The emotional problem of evil questions salvation, and expresses anger at the pointless evil, but does not attempt to disprove God.

While both the logical and evidential problem of evil address the issue from a logical standpoint, they are not existentially sufficient for me.*

The emotional problem of evil resonates most strongly with me because the form addresses the problem as a question for concern rather than an objection to belief in the existence of God. David Hart’s account of Ivan’s lament about the tortured child “weeping her supplications to ‘gentle Jesus,’ begging God to release her from misery,” evokes intense emotions for me because I uttered that prayer so many times during my childhood. However, each time, God sent comfort to me, sometimes in the form of an angel, sometimes through the loving touch of a friend. Where the emotional problem of evil fails is in the assumption that atrocities against the innocent are pointless evil. My life is one example of how seemingly pointless evil can lead to a life of service to others who suffer at the hands of tormentors. Perhaps the most significant example in my life occurred when I was eleven. After giving birth to my father’s child, I hemorrhaged on the bedroom floor. I found out later that EMS declared me dead, but later revived. During the moments I was legally dead, I experienced what I believe was the outer court of heaven. Jesus told me that I had to return because I had more to do. I remember begging Jesus to let me stay with him, but he refused.

I did not fully understand why I had to come back, and I was angry, but I obeyed. Years later as I began my healing journey, I realized what Jesus meant when he said I had more to do. As David Hart points out, “for the Christian, Ivan’s argument…provides a kind of spiritual hygiene; …a solvent as well of the obdurate fatalism of the theistic determinist, and of the confidence of rational theodicy, and…of the habitual and unthinking retreat of most Christians to a kind of indeterminate deism.”[19] He concludes that the argument is, therefore, a Christian argument. Through ‘Rebellion,’ Dostoyevsky sees how far more terrible the world would be if the history of suffering and death made sense.[20] ‘Rebellion’ calls Christians to review their approach to the problem of evil and consider whether we need some emotional and spiritual hygiene before addressing the issue with non-believers or hurting believers.

God Can Turn Tragedy into Triumph

While the question of why evil occurs remains unanswered, the emotional problem of evil provides an opportunity for apologists to explore the issue without challenging God’s existence. The emotional problem of evil fails to prove why or if there is pointless evil, but it does provide more comfort than logical explanations. Though it took years, I finally understood and accepted that God did not ignore my pleas for rescue, but he followed the rules of providential guidance. He could not interfere with the free will of those who abused me. However, he did protect me from death and eventually turned what seemed like pointless evil into a powerful testimony of redemption.  The emotional problem of evil can be a useful tool for the apologist if we accept that it is perfectly acceptable not to know all the answers. In other words, accepting God’s providential governance. Perhaps then we can understand Jerry Walls declaration, “Thank God for the problem of evil!”[21]

 * Recommend -Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith by Evans and Manis (listed in footnotes) to learn more about the Logical and evidential form of the problem of evil.

[1]Jerry Walls – Problem of Evil – 2013, https://vimeo.com/112109182 , 2:23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 10:12.

[4] C. Stephen. Evans and R. Zachary. Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 156.

[5] Mary Jo Sharp, email response to Charlotte Thomason, December 10, 2018.

[6] Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame UP, 1992), 65.

[7] David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?(Grand Rapids, MI: William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 38-39.

[8] Ibid, 39.

[9] C. Stephen. Evans and R. Zachary. Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 156.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid, 160.

[12] Mary Jo Sharp, “Post to Weekly Course Outline, Week 7,” Houston Baptist University, Fall, 2018, PDF, Philosophy of Religion Course, accessed December 10, 2018.

[13] Evans et al, 168.

[14] Evans et al, 168.

[15] Ibid, 169.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Hart, 44.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Walls

Related Posts

Is God a Good Parent?-Why Did He Let this Happen?

The View from the Foot of the Bed

Sonnet V-At Last I Stand Approved

God is a Good Parent-Even In Our Darkest Hour

God guides us but does not demand or actively direct us. Rather, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God keeps the faith, and he will not allow you to be tested about your powers, but when a test comes he will at the same time provide a way out, by enabling you to sustain it.”[1]  Using perfect parental guidance, God provides a way out but does not remove the freedom to choose. 

We Always Have a Choice

After reading the first three posts about God’s parenting, some may still ask, “Why didn’t God stop my abuser?” “Isn’t abusing a child behavior that is ‘completely out of line?” While child abuse is completely contrary to God’s desire for humanity, He does not always step in and prevent the abuse. As I wrote in the last post, there are consequences for the choices that we make. The key, however, is even in this, freedom remains. God guides us but does not demand or actively direct us. Rather, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God keeps the faith, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your powers, but when a test comes he will at the same time provide a way out, by enabling you to sustain it.”[1]  Using perfect parental guidance, God provides a way out but does not remove the freedom to choose.  He allows us to make the choice to accept the way out or remain where we are, just like the person caught in a flood who cried out to God, “Save me, Lord.” A boat came, but the person refused, saying, “God will save me.” He climbed to the roof where a helicopter came, but the person refused, saying, “God will save me.” Finally, when the person drowned, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?”  God replied, “I sent a boat and a helicopter.” Often we want God to act as the Helicopter Parent, swooping in dramatically to save the day. Instead, He provides the tools we need to escape. He behaves like a good parent to direct us, rather than forcing His will upon us. When we are aware of God’s providential care, our confidence, and faith increase because we know that “in everything, he cooperates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”[2]

However, as Cline and Fay point out, parents should step in, “When our children know they are in a situation, they can’t handle by themselves…it is not a destructive message because everyone is aware of the child’s inability to handle the situation.”[3] Oden reminds us that God is capable of “transcending the very order that God has created.”[4]  Just as a parent takes control when a child finds himself in a situation outside their ability to comprehend, God can intervene when our choices place us in circumstances we do not have the capacity to understand. When faced with the insurmountable, God’s absolute power can override his ordered power to perform miracles and pull us out of the fire.[5]

God Gets the Blame

While people may blame God for everything that is wrong with the world and fail to grasp how a loving God would allow hurt, death and chaos among his creation, accepted styles of sound parental guidance demonstrate that God’s interaction with humanity fits the good parenting model very well.  Throughout history, humanity has struggled, rebelled, been tempted and revolted with and against God, much like a child interacts with their parents.  Through all of these actions, God consistently models proper parental guidance. In His perfect goodness, He does what He instructs human parents to do. Anything less would not follow God’s perfect goodness. If a parent who allows their child to face the consequences of poor choices is not a bad parent, why would we believe God is unloving because He makes it possible to cope with the consequences of our poor choices rather than swooping in to save us?  How could a truly loving God, permit his creation to run wildly without guidance?  He would not.  Through his perfect goodness, God guides us toward His plan for us just as a human parent desires to guide their child toward adulthood. God demonstrates all the characteristics of good parental guidance through His providential care of humanity. In contrast, he exhibits no features of the Helicopter Parent, the Drill Sergeant Parent or the Laissez-Faire Parent.  He makes us face the consequences of our choices. He attempts to protect us by putting obstacles in our way.  He guides our steps when we are out of line. Finally, He directs us toward the plan he has for us by opening doors and closing others.

How does God’s parental guidance apply to the parent who abuses or neglects their child? The child does not make a bad choice, but still endures the consequences of their parents’ bad choice. I think God anguishes when a parent’s choice harms a child. Even though God did not sweep in and stop my family from abusing me, He was a constant presence in my life. Sometimes I was unaware of the presence but I know He was present. He kept me sane. He protected my soul and He guided me toward the promise of freedom. I did not understand why He did not just stand between me and my family. For years I was angry and afraid because I did not trust Him to protect me, but as I learned more about God’s character, I realized that He will not break His own laws. My parents will face the consequences or their choices. I do not have to worry about their fate. I am not responsible for their actions. I realize God is a good parent and He loves all of His creation.

Related Posts:

Is God a Good Parent?-Why Did He Let this Happen?

Is God a Good Parent-Part 2 What Makes Someone a Good Parent?

Is God a Good Parent? Part 3-What Does the Bible Tell Us About Parenting?

Is God a Good Parent Part 4-Does God follow the guidelines of good parental guidance?

[1] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992),159.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Foster Cline; Jim Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (NavPress Publishing. Kindle Edition: 2014-02-01), Kindle Locations 856-860.

[4] Oden., 53.

[5] Ibid.

God follows the guidelines of good parenting.

There are Consequences

We have looked at what experts and the Bible say about effective parenting, but the question remains, does God’s parental guidance follow the guidelines of good parental guidance. There are several attributes of God’s guidance that parallel what we learned about effective parenting. First, God permits our freedom to result in consequences. He guides us by allowing our choices to play out in consequences.  Oden argues that “Freedom has no meaning if there is no risk of going astray.”[1]  As Cline and Fay point out, “If there had been no forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, humanity would have had no opportunity to make responsible or irresponsible choices.”[2] While God could easily take control like the Helicopter Parent who swoops in to remove any chance of consequence, doing so would prevent us from learning the essential lessons of our mistakes.  Instead, God permits us to choose whether to yield to temptation or not. Just like the parent providing proper parental guidance, God informs us of the consequences of our choice. Adam and Eve, for example, knew they were forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree and why.  God told them they would die. He allowed them to choose between the known consequence and the promises voiced by the Serpent.  He did not swoop down like the Helicopter Parent, stand in front of Satan and shout, “Remember what I said about this?” Nor did He send angels to destroy Satan or rip the fruit from Eve’s hand.  He allowed his creation to choose. Then like a good parent, He followed through with the consequence and banished them from Paradise.  However, He still loved them and ultimately provided a way back to Him through Jesus Christ.

Fencing us in

Secondly, God guides us by hindering our freedom by putting obstacles in our way to protect us from “ill-motivated actions.”[3]  Like the parent who puts the fence around the yard to keep the child from entering the street, God places obstacles in our path to keep us from harm.  The obstacles only hinder us.  Like the child who discovers how to climb over the fence and enter the street, we may find a “workaround” for the obstacle, but not without encountering some difficulty.  Satan challenged God to remove His protection from Job saying, “Have you not hedged him round on every side with your protection?”[4]  By such actions, God demonstrates that He is not the Laissez-Faire Parent, who allows the child to roam freely without guidance. However, if we discover how to overcome the obstacle, God does not become the Drill Sergeant or Helicopter Parent when we get into trouble. Instead, He allows us to grow from the SLO of our decision to climb the fence He placed around the yard to protect us. However, God will keep us from harm at times when we ask for his intervention or when the situation is beyond our ability to comprehend. God’s protection is not overprotection, but He does intervene for our safety by hedging us in or holding us back, “from committing a sin against” Him.  The psalmist prayed for such protection and hindrance of his freedom to harm himself[5], much like prayers of those struggling with addiction who pray for the hindrance of their choice to use drugs.

Overruling our freedom when we are completely out of line

Thirdly, God guides us by overruling our freedom when we are completely out of line.[6] Most parents accept that good parental guidance includes discipline such as removal of privileges, grounding and parental control of online activity. Some of these activities protect a child from predators, but most are put in place when a child’s behavior is “out of line.”  Similarly, as a good parent, God overrules our freedom when we act outside of God’s plan for us.  When the result is harm to ourselves or others, God guides us toward an outcome that turns the evil around for good, just as Joseph, whose brother sold him into slavery, became the means of redemption for them.[7] When a child hurts another person, the parent can intervene by expecting the child to learn about bullying, guiding them toward a better outcome for the child and others.  Community service for first offenders serves a similar purpose, especially when the person serves the community they offended.  God puts us into “community service” to guide us toward the plan He has for us. God’s community service may not be apparent to us because as Oden reflects, He guides us through “hidden routes” to “turn our misdeeds into potentially redeemed relationships.”[8]  Again, God acts as a responsible parent instituting logical consequences to teach us something and direct us toward His ultimate plan for us. He does not shout at us like a Drill Sergeant Parent nor does He hover over us ready to attack anyone who tries to impose consequences for our misdeed like a Helicopter Parent. Instead, He guides us toward activities which ultimately lead to restoration and growth if we listen to His guidance.

He goes before us and prepares the way

Finally, of all God’s providential governance, perhaps the idea that He goes before us and prepares the way is the most difficult for some to accept. To some, going before us may mean that God makes everything perfect, and therefore we should never struggle or suffer.   What if God acted as the Drill Sergeant Parent, barking orders to us about what direction we should go? While we may reach the goal, would we grow? Would we learn how to make difficult choices under pressure? Most likely, our reaction would resemble the response of children raised by any of the ineffective parenting styles, anger, rebellion, and inability to choose the correct path for fear of failing.  If God acted as the Laissez-Faire Parent, how would we know the options available? We would not know; we would wander aimlessly, making choices based on our limited knowledge with potentially disastrous consequences.   By guiding us instead of actively directing or demanding that we behave in a particular manner, God demonstrates the ultimate goal of good parenting which is encouraging growth, and maturity. By guiding our path, God directs us by opening some doors and closing others, thus guiding us away from disaster or inordinate temptation.[9]

Next: God is a Good Parent-Even In Our Darkest Hour

Related Posts:

Is God a Good Parent?-Why Did He Let this Happen?

Is God a Good Parent-Part 2 What Makes Someone a Good Parent?

Is God a Good Parent? Part 3-What Does the Bible Tell Us About Parenting?

The View from the Foot of the Bed

[1] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992),159.

[2] Foster Cline; Jim Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (NavPress Publishing. Kindle Edition: 2014-02-01), Kindle Locations 392-393.

[3] Oden, 158.

[4] Oden, 158.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 159.

[9] Ibid.

What the Bible Tells Us About Parenting

 If God is such as a good parent, why do we see violence, poverty, terrorism, and devastation on the news every day? If God, as our parent, will not allow human freedom to overrule His purpose, then why does he allow innocents to die? If God views children as “a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward,”[8] then why does He apparently abandon us when we need Him the most?

 

In my last post, I described what experts consider effective parenting. Additionally, we find the elements of proper parental guidance in scripture. “God’s love in the garden sets the example for all parents to follow,” says Cline and Fay, “he allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to make the choice.”[1]  In Proverbs, Solomon writes, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”[2]  However, in Introduction to Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives and Applications, Meir et al., assert that Proverbs 22:6 does not take away a child’s freedom of choice, but rather indicates that children raised under good parental guidance are less likely to “depart from their faith.”[3] When Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus, he admonished them, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”[4] Here, Paul cautions parents to teach and guide their children rather than being the Drill Sergeant barking orders.  Paul provides similar counsel in Colossians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”[5] Solomon points out the negative outcome of Laissez-Faire Parenting in Proverbs 29:15 when he counsels parents that “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”[6] Finally, Psalm 127:3 describes children as “a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”[7]

Why does it matter if God is a good parent?

If God is such as a good parent, why do we see violence, poverty, terrorism, and devastation on the news every day? If God, as our parent, will not allow human freedom to overrule His purpose, then why does he allow innocents to die? If God views children as “a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward,”[8] then why does He apparently abandon us when we need Him the most? Cline and Fay provide a simple answer, “God gave all humans — His supreme creation — considerable freedom, and that includes the opportunity to goof up,”[9]  Isaiah describes God’s care for the world, “As a mother comforts her son, so will I myself comfort you.”[10]  God, who creates all things does not just leave His alone to find their way as the Laissez-Faire parent would, rather He “continues to nurture and care for them, and is constantly active”[11] on their behalf.  As Oden asserts, we are “not automations but endowed with free will.”[12]  As Cline and Fay argue, “The challenge of parenting is to love kids enough to allow them to fail — to stand back, however, painful it may be and let significant learning opportunities (SLO) build our children.”[13]

 

Next: Does God’s parental guidance (providential) follow the guidelines of good parental guidance?

Related Posts:

Is God a Good Parent?-Why Did He Let this Happen?

What Kind of Love is This?- Part II

[1] Foster Cline; Jim Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (NavPress Publishing. Kindle Edition: 2014-02-01), Kindle Locations 395-396.

[2] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Crossway Bibles: Good News Publishers, 2001), Accessed June 24, 2016.

[3] Paul D. Meir, Frank B. Minirth, Frank B. Wichern, Donald F. Ratcliff, Introduction to Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives and Applications, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 217.

[4] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version., Ephesians 6:4.

[5] Ibid., Colossians 3:21.

[6] Ibid., Proverbs 29:15.

[7] Ibid., Psalm 127:3.

[8] Ibid., Psalm 127:3.

[9] Cline; Fay, Kindle Location 391.

[10] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 159.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Cline, Fay, Kindle Locations 480-481.

 

What Makes Someone a Good Parent?

We can learn more about why God allows hurt, suffering and how He guides us by first looking at the elements of proper parental guidance.

We can learn more about why God allows hurt, suffering and how He guides us by first looking at the elements of proper parental guidance. The first element, nonintrusive monitoring, allows the child some element of freedom to explore their environment. For example, baby monitors allow the child freedom to experiment with language, to explore the crib or playpen without the physical presence of the parent. As the child grows, the parent may allow the child to play in the backyard while watching from the kitchen window.  The observing parent watches with readiness to intervene if the child wanders outside the boundaries of the yard.  The child may occasionally look at the kitchen window for reassurance of the parent’s oversight of their activities, but perhaps only when they attempt to move outside the limits set by the parent. According to the Johnson study, the early interactions between parent and child regarding monitoring often predict the degree of self-disclosure by the child during adolescence. The study found that “parental knowledge of a child’s whereabouts was largely based on child-self disclosure stating that “a warm parent-child relationship was associated with increased child self-disclosure.”[1]

Be Flexible

Secondly, a flexible discipline that changes with the developmental level of the child promotes confidence and independence.  In Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility, Foster Cline and Jim Fay assert, “as children grow, they move from being concrete thinkers to being abstract thinkers when they are teens. Children need thoughtful guidance and firm, enforceable limits.”[2] Implementing age-appropriate natural and logical consequences at each developmental stage while “encouraging their children to think about their behavior and help them feel in control.”[3]  Gradually, as the child develops, the effective parent offers the child age and developmentally appropriate choices rather than just demanding a particular behavior, so that in their teen years the child makes good decisions. Referring to the toddler in the backyard, a parent may give the toddler the choice of playing in the playpen or on the back porch outside the playpen.  The parent tells the child the consequences of leaving the porch, such as coming inside or going back to the playpen, but the choice remains with the child.  Of course, the parent must follow through with the stated consequence or the child learns nothing about the consequences of poor choices.  The pattern of offering options and allowing the natural or logical consequences continues as the child grows, but the choices become more complex with less input from the parent. As Cline and Fay argue, “They become advisors and counselors more than police officers, allowing their adolescents to make more decisions for themselves, and then guide them to navigate the consequences of those decisions successfully.”[4]

 Avoid Overprotection

Thirdly, avoiding overprotection while controlling the environment to promote the child’s safety teaches a child how to face challenges while also showing them the consequences of rebellious behavior. While some parents believe protection equates to never allowing their child to experience harm or pain, Cline and Fay argue that “Caring for our children does not equate to protecting them from every possible misstep they could make in growing up.”[5]  The limits or boundaries set by a parent should decrease as the child matures. The toddler in the backyard needs more limits than the teenager riding their bicycle around the neighborhood.   When parents put appropriate limits or boundaries in place, the parent communicates the expectation of staying within those limits. However, no matter what limits the parents creates the child may climb over a fence, but not without confronting the “serious effort of the parent at placing an obstacle in harm’s way.”[6] The goal of boundaries is protecting the child, making the task of getting into trouble more difficult.

Allow for Independence and Promote Moral Development

Finally, by allowing for independence and promoting moral development, parents direct the child toward productive lives and teach their children how to turn negative situations around for good.  As Cline and Fay remark, “When little kids rebel, parents can quash the rebellion with a stern order and get good short-term results. But when kids hit adolescence and rebel, parental orders too often become unenforceable.”[7]  The parent may intervene when the toddler finds a way over the fence and gets into the street by scooping the child up before a car strikes him, but an adolescent who breaks the law may need to go to jail to learn the consequences of stealing the neighbor’s car.  However, according to Cline and Fay, parents should step in when:

Our children are in definite danger of losing life or limb or of making a decision that could affect them for a lifetime.

When our children know they are in a situation, they can’t handle by themselves. More important, perhaps, is that they know we also know they can’t handle it. So when we step in and help them out — saying in essence, “You are incapable of coping with this situation” — it is not a destructive message because everyone is aware of the child’s inability to handle the situation.[8]

Three ineffective parenting styles:

In contrast to effective parental guidance, Cline and Fay briefly address three ineffective parenting styles: The Helicopter Parent, The Laissez-Faire Parent, and the Drill Sergeant Parent.[9]  The Helicopter Parent desires to create the perfect world for their child devoid of sorrow, consequences, and rejection.  The Helicopter parent swoops “down like jet-powered AH-64 Apache attack helicopters on any person or agency they see as a threat to their child’s impeccable credentials. Armed with verbal smart bombs, they are quick to blast away at anyone who sets high standards for behavior, morality, or achievement.”[10]  The Laissez-Faire Parent, for often unknown reasons, allows the child to parent themselves with little or no guidance from the parent. As Cline and Fay point out, “some have bought into the theory that children are innately born with the ability to govern themselves.”[11] However, they contend that Laissez-Faire parents are not really parenting, but refusing to accept parental responsibility.[12] Finally, the Drill Sergeant Parent controls the child through barking orders and demanding compliance.  Rarely does the Drill Sergeant allow the child to participate in decision making.  All three styles have detrimental effects on children, which carry over into adulthood, resulting in children who either feel entitled, have low self-esteem, have little trust or respect for authority and who do not know how to make good decisions.

Next: What does the Bible tell us about proper parental guidance?

Related Posts:

Is God a Good Parent?-Why Did He Let this Happen?

Is God a Good Parent? Part 3-What Does the Bible Tell Us About Parenting?

Is God a Good Parent Part 4-Does God’s parental guidance follow the guidelines of good parental guidance?

[1]Brian D. Johnson, Laurie D. Berdahl, Melissa Horne, Emily A. Richter, and Meag-gan Walters., “A Parenting Competency Model.” Parenting: Science & Practice 14, no. 2 (CINAHL Plus with Full Text, EBSCOhost: 2014), 92-120 29p. Accessed June 13, 2016.

[2] Foster Cline; Jim Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (NavPress Publishing. Kindle Edition: 2014-02-01), Kindle Locations 356-357.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., Kindle Locations 364-366.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Locations 463-464.

[6]Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 159.

[7] Cline, Fay Kindle Locations 673-674.

[8] Ibid., Kindle Locations 856-860.

[9] Ibid., Kindle Location 314.

[10] Ibid., Kindle Locations 303-305.

[11] Ibid., Kindle Locations 338-339.

[12] Ibid., Kindle Locations 345-346.

Is God a Good Parent?-

Over the next few weeks, I will attempt to provide some insight into how God parents His creation. While most of my posts are informal, for this series, I divided an essay I wrote for a graduate school course into five posts. Perhaps the rational approach to this very emotional topic will help someone who currently struggles with the problem of evil in our world. 

A few weeks ago I posted The View from the Foot of the Bed which describes my perception of Christ’s view of the abuse I experienced as a child. At the end of the introduction to the sonnet, I promised to answer the question, “Why didn’t He stop what was happening to me?” Over the next few weeks, I will attempt to provide some insight into how God parents His creation. While most of my posts are informal, for this series, I divided an essay I wrote for a graduate school course into five posts.

I struggled with the idea of posting the essay because I want my blog to reflect my personal story. I don’t want the site to become all academic or propositional. However, each time that I considered how to describe why I think God sometimes allows bad things to occur, the essay returned to my thinking.

Perhaps the rational approach to this very emotional topic will help someone who currently struggles with the problem of evil in our world.

Social Media, television, newspapers, interest group forums and even our friends and co-workers bombard us the latest and greatest method of parenting.

Memes poke fun at parental mistakes or make sarcastic comments regarding modern parenting. Most recently, posts comparing parenting in the 50’s with 21st-century parenting proliferate Social Media.  The public often blames the parents for their children’s misbehavior, much like some blame God for the failures, disasters, and suffering we experience daily.  As parents, grandparents or just an adult watching children in a public setting, many questions arise about what the best way is to guide a child, so they reach their potential, are good citizens and can support themselves.  A simple Google search for “good parenting” yields thousands of results that range from corporal punishment to allowing a child to do what they want and paying the price of natural consequences. According to ‘A Parenting Competency Model’, “there is perhaps no more complex and difficult job than childrearing.”[1]   On the eternal scale, if we view God as a parent, why would we consider His task any less complicated? After all, God provides providential guidance to all of humanity. While some individuals blame God for everything that is wrong with the world and fail to grasp how a loving God would allow hurt, death and chaos among his creation, accepted styles of sound parental guidance demonstrate that God’s interaction with humanity fits the good parenting model very well. In fact, in Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology, Thomas C. Oden compares God’s providential governance of human freedom to good parenting by illustrating that God teaches, guides, sets boundaries and overrules choices that seem to jeopardize the Divine purpose.[2]

Why compare effective parenting with God’s Providential care of Humanity?

Comparing the complexity of effective parental guidance with God’s Providential care of humanity helps us understand that God demonstrates identical elements and is, in fact, a good parent.  According to Johnson et, al., competent parenting includes nonintrusive monitoring, a flexible discipline that changes with the developmental level of the child, avoiding overprotection while controlling the environment to promote the child’s safety, allowing for independence and promoting moral development. The Johnson study also emphasizes the importance of communication between the parent and child as well as the use of logical and natural consequences that result from the child’s choices.[3]  By comparison, Oden asserts that Classical Christian tradition regards providence as three interrelated phases of upholding, cooperating, and guiding.[4] He continues the discussion by explaining the four stages of Providence used by God to guide human freedom; permitting, hindering, overruling and limiting our choices.[5]

While the comparison of good parenting and God’s providential care provides foundational information, does the comparison answer the question, “Is God a good parent?” Perhaps, before we can fully appreciate how God’s providential interaction with humanity resembles proper parental guidance, we should clarify what the term providence means. As Oden defines the term, Providence is the expression of the divine will, power, and goodness through which the Creator preserves creatures, cooperates with what is coming to pass through their action, and guides creatures in their long-range purposes.”[6]   Oden continues by affirming that through God’s providence, we learn “by experience, by moving through stages of growth and by struggling toward good through evil,”[7] much like a parent cares for and guides a child toward adulthood.  When quoting Augustine, Oden argues that God would not permit evil at all unless He could draw some good out of it.”[8]  While providence extends to all God’s creation, the unique element of humanity is the freedom to choose.  Through providence, God’s care for us “never sleeps.”[9]  However, Solomon admonishes us that “A man’s heart may be full of schemes, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” (Prov. 19:22).[10]  God, as our parent, will not allow human freedom to overrule His purpose.  While God’s power is absolute, it is also orderly and follows His nature. If God is perfectly good, He must be a perfectly good parent. He created us and guides us by the same rules that He provides human parents. We can learn more about why God allows hurt, suffering and how he guides us by first looking at the elements of proper parental guidance.

Next: What makes someone a good parent?

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Is God a Good Parent? Part 3-What Does the Bible Tell Us About Parenting?

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[1]Brian D. Johnson, Laurie D. Berdahl, Melissa Horne, Emily A. Richter, and Meag-gan Walters., “A Parenting Competency Model.” Parenting: Science & Practice 14, no. 2 (CINAHL Plus with Full Text, EBSCOhost: 2014), 92-120 29p. Accessed June 13, 2016.

 

[2] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992),159.

[3] Johnson, et al., 92-120 29p. Accessed June 13, 2016.

 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. 158.

[6] Oden, 143.

[7] Ibid., 156.

[8] Ibid., 157.

[9] Ibid., 155.

[10] Ibid.

 

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