Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him~ Psalm 128:1
One night a few months back, our adopted ten-year-old daughter asked me to explain Korah’s rebellion to her. Delighted by her sudden interest in the Bible, I proceeded to give her the highlights of Korah’s story found in Numbers 16:1-35.
I explained that Korah and his friends disobeyed God when they attempted to overthrow Moses, God’s choice for the leader of the Israelite people. They also ignored God’s explicit instructions concerning the organization of the priesthood and insisted on doing some really important things their own way rather than the way God expected them to be done. I was careful to explain that obedience is a really big deal to God before I shared the specifics of Korah’s sudden and shocking end.
Her reaction was not even close to the Sunday school response I was hoping for. Looking appalled and more than a bit scornful she replied…
“That seems a little harsh of God. I really don’t see what the big deal is, all those guys did was disobey a few rules”.
No amount of reason on my part seemed to persuade the child that the Creator of the universe has the right to demand absolute obedience of someone.
Apparently we still have some work to do.
After a little thought and a lot of prayer I realized that I was much more surprised by her reaction than I should have been. She is a sweet little girl who is also the product of a culture that believes three things to be so absolutely true and immutable, that even God Himself is not exempt from the consequences of violating these “truths”:
It is a grievous sin to restrict or limit a person’s choices (even if those choices are dangerous)
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion (even if it’s demonstrably wrong)
Expecting obedience is a form of abuse
These beliefs have become so deeply embedded in our cultural thinking that they have profoundly influenced every aspect of our lives—from politics and education, to workplace etiquette, to how we parent our children. Everywhere we look, “obedience” has become a dirty word.
Some well-meaning parents subtly discourage their children from obeying and demonstrating respect for adults. These parents erroneously believe that some sassiness combined with a little spirited defiance empowers children to stand-up for themselves when confronted with unreasonable authority figures. Many otherwise intelligent adults have bought into the lie that childhood obedience sets kids up to be spineless adults unable to stand up for themselves.
Training children to obey adult authority is only dangerous when we also fail to teach them right from wrong. Kids must be taught to understand that they are only obligated to obey leaders or adults who are doing the right thing. Children should be encouraged to flee from and tell on anyone (adult or child) who urges them to do anything dishonest or sketchy. Knowing how to think and reason is the best protection from evil or irrational authority figures.
Teaching kids to obey must be done in a context of love and logic. Kids need to understand that rules and boundaries have been put in place for their protection. If they believe that rules are arbitrary or mean-spirited, they will rebel and bad behavior will be driven underground.
No child will consistently obey unless taught to do so. Most will become passively noncompliant, while some will openly defy authority. Both are equally dangerous; passive disobedience, left unchecked, creates an environment where folly and deceitfulness take root in a child’s heart.
Conversely, a child who openly defies adult authority will mature into an adult who tends to be disrespectful of people and property and who may even be at odds with the law. Both passive and active defiance, left unchecked, produce an adult who is difficult to like and not worthy of trust.
Teaching kids to obey parental authority is not a form of abuse; rather, it’s a form of protection. It protects kids because they learn through doing what is sensible and wise by following the directives of their parents. Obedience keeps kids out of trouble and makes them more likeable to other adults. Kids who are liked by others naturally receive more opportunities in life.
In order for obedience to make sense to kids, parents must be willing to explain the reasons for their rules. The point is not to squash a child’s ability to think independently, or to make them completely dependent on their parent’s wisdom. The goal should be to help kids while they are young to develop the common sense and good judgment necessary to make good choices and lead others as they grow into adulthood.
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