I’m on my lunch break. Just moments ago, I was at the post office. I was there mailing a few things, since that is what one does at a post office. This is the perfect combination of events for some writing, I suppose.
Being somewhat burdened by the pressure to be more intentional about ‘self-branding,’ as I step into a career that now seems to depend on internet presence. . . I find myself ever-frantically looking for inspiration for tweets to tweet, or blogs to blog. It’s bad enough that ministers and future ministers are always on the hunt for sermon illustrations, making them naturally that boring person who has to find theological significance in every mundane moment. Nowadays we’re expected by the blogosphere to be doing this daily.
Anyway. A woman with three kids at the post office, and the presence of lollipops, seemed like perfect culprits for writing material.
Two rather outgoing toddlers walked in with their mother, who had an infant in arms. The lady working behind the desk at the post office was friendly to the boys, and offered some lollipops. The mother hung on to them, and explained to the boys that if they behaved well, they could have the lollipops later.
It was a normal enough encounter. I remember similar instances with my parents; Promised rewards for good behavior or chores. There are many different ways that parents, or teachers, or others, morally train those under their care.
But my brain, always now ready to capitalize on any possible way theology can be inserted into everyday moments (one day my salary will depend on it), walked back to my car pondering the way God teaches and trains us. That is, His ‘methods’ of training us, or sanctifying us. And I also wondered about the way our upbringing impacts the way we learn from God, or expect Him to teach us.
Does ‘behavior-reward’ training, like I experienced in the Post Office, prepare us to treat God as someone who rewards us for good behavior? One can certainly hear a lot of teaching in churches these days that lean this way (Joel Olsteen – everyone’s favorite scapegoat – is just the extreme version of something that seems actually quite more pervasive, albeit more subtle). Do we look up to God trying to get lollipops? Do we try and reward ourselves to stimulate our growth?
Does corporal punishment predispose us to think of God as a harsh disciplinarian such that we are constantly on the look for the lessons to be learned in all our suffering? Do we look for churches or mentors that will treat us harshly and strictly? Do we treat ourselves this way with our own brain?
Do parents who focus on communication and negotiation ‘let me help you understand,’ methods of training – do we expect our spiritual growth to come from learning, understanding, and contemplation? Do we blame our lack of growth on not enough Bible study, worship, or not enough thinking?
The possible connections and associations are endless.
Are these potential conceptions we have of ‘moral-growth’ distortions? Half-truths? Does Scripture tell us that God trains us in any particular way? In my reading, I think there are at the very least, examples we can cite where He seems to use discipline, reasoning, psychology, reverse psychology (as I’ve pondered elsewhere), and many other ‘methods.’
I have no answers, just questions to ponder.
How does our upbringing impact our understanding of spiritual growth? How does Scripture describe God’s ‘methods’ of spiritual growth, about what it means to become a better Christian? Do we need to change our expectations and put aside our childhood experiences in order to understand the way God wishes to train us? Do we need to get rid of our lollipop-giving God? Or does God meet us at our expectations and use our experiences to train us – (does He act as the lollipop-giving God so that we can understand)? Or do we need to keep but expand our understanding and our expectations? Do we need to add to our lollipop-bestowing God the disciplinarian, and the reasoner, and the psychologist? Or do we need to smash all these images and start from scratch (if that is possible?)