Tuesday

Raising children without God

A recent blog posted by Deborah Mitchell, or TXBlue08, on CNN has caught my attention. Mitchell, who is a mother of teenagers, posted a blog called "Why I Raise My Children Without God" because she feels like there is not a voice out there for women/moms like me. I think people misunderstand or are fearful of people who don’t believe in God.

In a subsequent article, CNN reported that many parents identified with Mitchell's concerns. The post drew 650,000 page views and more than 56,000 people shared it with their friends on Facebook.

As you can guess, her blog has raised the hackles of some in the religious community; CNN reported that:

Lots of people disagreed with her. Tons. They flagged her iReport as inappropriate and criticized CNN for linking to her essay on the CNN.com homepage. But there were plenty of others who wrote thoughtful rebuttals, respectfully disagreeing with Mitchell while not foisting their own beliefs on her. Take, for instance, a Methodist dad, who said faith can be hard to nail down, but “not to avail ourselves of the power of something we don't completely understand is silly.”

Others said Mitchell presented a simplistic view of religion.

“Presentations such as these seem to ignore a substantial percentage of believers - well-educated, compassionate, liberal folk, Christian and non-Christian alike - who, I feel, are able to worship without being blind to the realities of the world, or without lying to their children about their understanding of these complexities,” wrote commenter RMooradian. “I'll be raising my children with God, but I understand those who cannot!”

I applaud the believers who responded with respect and gentleness, as Peter advocates in 1 Peter 3:15. The ones who didn't respond in such a way really need to return to the gospels and reevaluate what Jesus said about loving others.

That being said, I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to Ms. Mitchell's claims one by one as she presented them. This is not the first time I've heard these arguments, so I hope I can offer help from my own experience. Like Mitchell, I have teenagers - two at home and one about to turn 20 who is not living at home. Also like Mitchell, I grew up in church. She was raised Catholic and left the church in her 20s. I was raised Protestant and considered leaving the church in my late thirties. The reason I did not leave, however, was because of my children. Now there are other reasons why I stay, but the first three reasons were my sons, who I knew needed God even though I felt hurt by his people.

Here are Mitchell's claims:

God is a bad parent and role model
God is not logical
God is not fair
God does not protect the innocent
God is not present
God does not teach children to be good
God teaches narcissism

Let me first start by saying that I think Mitchell's accusations are not aimed at who the Bible says God is. She may not think so, but I believe her accusations justifiably demonstrate how the church has portrayed God over the years.

I will also address her claims in a series of blog posts because these answers require explanation.

God is a bad parent and role model.

Mitchell says, If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

In scripture God is portrayed as a father. We see this depicted in the Lord's Prayer, the story of the Prodigal Son, in which the father lovingly welcomes back to the family a son who spent his inheritance and basically told his father that he would think him better off dead. This portrayal of God is used in both the Old and New Testaments, although in pre-Christian literature, the reference is rare.  In his article Fatherhood of God,  Robert H. Stein claims that there are 15 references to God as Father  in the Old Testament compared to more than 200 times in the New Testament - 165 by Jesus alone.

This is important because there are more than 100 metaphors for God in the Bible. God our Father is only one. Stein writes: When God is referred as a father, this is simply the use of a metaphor in which he is likened to a kind and loving father. Elsewhere God's love and care can be compared to that of a concerned and caring mother ( Isa 49:14-16 ; Luke 13:34 ). Yet to avoid the metaphor of father as a description and designation for God is to lose sight of the fact that Jesus chose this as his metaphor to address God and that he taught this as the metaphor by which his disciples should address God."

A portrayal of God as anything but a loving Father is false as far as the Bible is concerned. Unfortunately, his children, or people who call themselves God's children, are another concern. Here is what I think needs to be addressed based on Ms. Mitchell's claims:

We are not all God's children

Mitchell's claim that good parents don't allow their children to hurt others is true. However, not everyone is a child of God. If I am a good parent, I will step in and guide my child, but it will be difficult to step in and guide someone else's child unless I have permission to do so. God is like that too. He's not going to step in and guide someone if that person does not want him to. This is a component of that 'free will,' as well as the acceptance of God's grace. Unfortunately, this is where free will can go wrong because some choose to exercise it in a harmful way. If God stepped in and stopped all things negative there would be no such thing as free will. We would all be puppets.

God is often misrepresented

Photo from GoogleBooks
I'm not sure how to fully answer Mitchell's claim that parents don't condone violence and abuse in relation to God. Of course for human parents, advocating gratuitous violence and abuse is wrong. I do advocate self-defense through violent means, if necessary. In our house, the boys know that we support them defending themselves or someone else, but they will be in big trouble if they start a fight. That's the rule. I don't believe that God condones violence and abuse either. Any abuse handed down in God's name, such as the oppression of women, slavery, beating up children, verbally abusing others, etc., is misrepresenting God. In Scripture, God is said to be love itself. If this is so, how could God condone violence? Images from some Old Testament stories are troubling. The good news is that I've picked up a new book called The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament's Troubling Legacy by Eric A. Seibert. I'm reading it right now and as soon as I'm done, I hope to be able to address this issue.

Things are going on behind the scenes

Habakkuk, a Russian icon, Wikipedia
 My former Bible professor Dr. Ruben Welsch said, "When it looks like God isn't doing something, God is doing something." It's true. There have been times in my life when it seemed like God refused to answer my prayers and then all of a sudden, he did. I had to learn that God is often working behind the scenes answering our prayers, but there are often delays such as working through the free will of others. Another interesting answer to this is found in the book of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk (my pastor just preached on this Saturday evening), was an Old Testament prophet living at a time in Israel's history when there was a lot of violence and injustice taking place. The prophet asked why God didn't stop the nonsense from continuing. God's answer to his prophet was that he was sending the Babylonians, a wicked and violent people, to take over Israel. Because of their stubborn sinfulness, the nation of Israel would have to experience destruction and exile before they learned. Sometimes as parents, when our children do wrong, we have to step in and punish our children in a way that will speak to them,  so that they will not repeat the offense. God does that with his children, but to say that he does it with people who are not necessarily his children is up for debate. Pat Robertson can say that Haiti had that terrible earthquake because of the sins of the Haitians, and Mike Huckabee can say that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings happened because Connecticut took prayer out of schools, but is that really correct?  We have to get to know God for ourselves and recognize that we do not have all of the answers, nor does God give us all of the answers.

By praying to God about his concerns, Habakkuk did the right thing. Was he mad at God? Yes, he probably was, but he took his concerns to the right place. That is what we should do with the questions that trouble us. We should not lose faith because of what someone says about God. We should ask God to say something about Godself ... and then try to understand the answer, when it comes.