Using “That Makes God Unhappy” to Control Your Child’s Behavior

From Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust:

Moralizing surges to the fore in this unbalanced spirituality. At the very outset, it presents a warped idea of the relationship between God and humans. From her parents a child learns of a deity who strongly disapproves of disobedience, hitting one’s brothers and sisters, and telling lies. When the little one goes to school, she realizes that God shares the fussy concerns of her teachers. At church, she learns that God has another set of priorities: she is told that he is displeased that the congregation is not growing numerically, that irregular attendance is the norm, and that his recurring fiscal demands are not being met.

When she reaches high school, she discovers that God’s interests have expanded to an obsession with sex, drinking and drugs. After twelve years of Christian indoctrination at home, school, and church, the teenager realizes with resentment that God has been used as a sanction by all those who have been responsible for her discipline – as when Mommy and Daddy, at their wits’ end over her mischievous antics as a toddler, alluded to “the eternal spanking.” Through this indoctrination, God is unwittingly associated with fear in most young hearts.

Moralism and its stepchild, legalism, pervert the character of the Christian life. By the time young people enter college, they have often abandoned God, church, and religion.

Do you evoke particular images of God to control the behavior of others? Does it work? What do you think are the long term affects of a child regularly being told that their behavior disappoints God?

11 Replies to “Using “That Makes God Unhappy” to Control Your Child’s Behavior”

  1. My daughter just turned 18 and, even though we give our expectations, we have always tried to live and love in such a way that that she and our son will know that we will love them no matter what. And we try to tell them that’s the way God loves them.

  2. Haven’t used that on the 2-year-old and I’m sure glad my parents didn’t use that on me! I can only imagine that I would feel like a pretty big disappointment to God!

  3. On the other hand, I cannot stand seeing parents disciplining children by gently scolding “Mommy doesn’t like it when you do that.”

    First of all, stop referring to yourself in the third person, Mommy.

    Second, you are telling the child that all discipline is contingent simply on Mom’s preferences, not actual right and wrong. We don’t need to swing the other way and bring God into every last disciplinary hearing, but children have to have a sense that morals are not just subjective demands from Mom and teacher.

    1. Matt,

      Wow, great insight. Your wisdom is staggering. I’m sure Mommy does all the correcting in your house.

      You see, sons of God train their children to be Father-pleasers. That is our version of right and wrong. If it pleases Him or displeases Him. Jesus had that mindset. Maybe Rachel Evans can write a book about it for you to learn from.

      1. Feel free to comment here making whatever points you would like, Unapologetic. But if you belittle or are sarcastic toward other readers, your comments will be deleted.

          1. It would be too bad if it came to that. You make interesting points, and I’d like you to be part of the conversation. But I also want everyone else to feel that they can enter the discourse without being made fun of.

            1. Oh Shawn, I’m quite sure Matty is a big boy and can handle some criticism. Well…wait. Maybe not. As long as he doesn’t tell his wife I hurted his feelings, I reckon I’ll be safe.

              Do as you wish, Shawn Smucker. Your blog. Your rules. However, you do realize you really shouldn’t have ended your last sentence with a preposition, do you not? ;)

  4. I grew up with one agnostic and one atheist parent. They would read what Manning wrote here and agree wholeheartedly. The result was four children who struggled significantly in a) interpersonal relationships, b)developing a personal identity and c) maintaining any sort of moral compass.

    As a parent who is also now a follower of Jesus, I teach my children that there are behaviors that God calls wrong because of the effect they have on ourselves and others. I teach them that God is an all-knowing and loving creator who understands far better than we what kind of behaviors are for our good. I teach them that there are certain things that God is (love), and certain things he is not (hate). I teach them that there are certain things he wants us to be (eg loving) and certain things he wants us not to be (hateful). And I provide appropriate consequences (rewards & discipline) to assure that what I say has meaning. In the process, I remind my kids that their behavior does not determine their value. That I, myself, am guilty just as they are. In fact, there have been times when I have tried to demonstrate grace by taking their punishment for them.

    The problem is not that we teach our children the same standards that Jesus himself taught. Rather, the problem comes in how we teach them, the attitude of our hearts when we teach them, and the consistency with which we apply them to our own lives.

Comments are closed.