Tell me. What do you believe about children?

Because in my experience, what you believe about children reveals what you believe about God. And what you believe about God determines what you believe about children.

In fact, it’s because I’m a parent that I started deconstructing in the first place.

I heard how the church wanted me to raise my kids, and the reasoning was always, “Well, this is how God parents us.”

It took four long years, but eventually, I could no longer stomach or justify the spanking, power struggles, or hyper-focus on obedience. So much desire for control, so much fear behind it all.

And after walking away from it all, I started questioning God as parent: what is He really like?

Is God the kind of parent the church wanted me to be to my children?

Let’s take a minute to go over some very common beliefs about children that the church seems to believe are true.

parents walking with little girl in between them, holding hands

What Do You Believe About Children?

Do you believe that children are wretched sinners from birth? That straight out of the womb, they are trying to manipulate you to do their bidding?

Just trying to get you to hold them all the time? Come when they cry? Nurse them when they’re fussy?

Do you believe that children’s needs and rights secondary to those of their parents? (After all, we came first.)

Do you believe that left to their own devices, children would do nothing all day? Would have no desire to do anything the world deems worthwhile or good?

Do you believe that the primary responsibility of parents is to teach children to obey? And I suppose, the primary responsibility of children is to learn to obey?

Do you believe children couldn’t possibly know what they need? When they’re hungry or tired or cold or hot? They need adults to tell them these things?

Even so far as what to do with their lives? Who to marry, what career to pursue, where to live, what church to go to?

Do you believe that children need to be hit in order to stop making mistakes? In order to learn?

Do you believe that children should be (mostly) perfect when they become adults? And if they don’t, the parents did something wrong? Not enough obedience training, not enough control, not enough passing along the family values?

If you nodded along to all of those things, then this is what you believe about God, the supposedly perfect parent, and how He relates to His children.

parent bowing her head in prayer, silhouette at sunset

Then, This Is What God Is Like As Parent

You believe that God cares more about what you do – whether or not you obey Him – than who you are – whether or not you are connected to Him.

You believe that God doesn’t believe you are capable of knowing what you need, of making decisions for your life in pretty much any capacity. You need His direction and guidance to make any and all decisions…or someone who is acting on His behalf.

You believe that if necessary, God will deliberately hurt you when you’re doing something wrong, that your behavior is the cause of bad things that happen to you.

Whatever it takes to get you back on the straight and narrow, God will cause (notice I didn’t say allow to happen – it’s an important distinction). The end justifies the means.

Pain is love, after all. “This hurts me more than it hurts you. I spank hurt you because I love you.”

You believe that God sees you as inherently lazy and evil and wretched, whether you’re a believe or not.

You are broken and any natural impulse you have must be the opposite of what you should do. You cannot trust yourself.

(I mean, if left to your own devices, you’d play video games and eat junk food all day right?)

You believe that when you cry out to God, you are just trying to manipulate Him to meet your not important needs, to get Him to do your bidding.

You believe that your wants and needs and desires are not important.

They don’t matter next to what God wants. His wants and desires trump yours every day of the week. Get used to stomping down your wants and desires – and definitely get used to feeling guilty if you have any wants, needs or desires at all.

They.don’t.matter. Only God’s do.

You also can never say “no”, never debate or discuss with God. “I’m in the Lord’s Army….Yes, Sir!”

You believe that God is fully responsible for your decisions and behavior. You are the product of his parenting, after all, for better or for worse.

You believe that when you make poor choices and mistakes, go off the rails, it’s most definitely His – the parent’s – fault.

Because clearly He wasn’t doing a good job instilling the right desires or training in you, causing you pain to teach you how to do the right thing.

Adam and Eve, who walked with Him daily, failed. They made one mistake, the biggest mistake of all time, the one that couldn’t be fixed.

Daddy God didn’t train them well enough. Obviously.

Oh wait, is that what we’re telling parents whose children “go astray” or make poor life decisions (mistakes)? They are the guilty ones?

mom snuggling baby sun in field with sunset in background

Is This How We Believe God Parents Us?

Are you starting to feel uncomfortable yet? Do you see where it leads?

Do you see yet how what we believe about children matters?

How we perceive and how we treat children – the least of these, the most vulnerable, the ones whose voices are discounted in our society (they’re just children) – says more about what we truly believe about God, Daddy God, Abba, deep down, than just about anything else.

Maybe you stand by all of these statements.

Or maybe you don’t think the corresponding God statements have anything to do with your evangelical Christian parenting dogma, that they can exist separately, that you can believe one set of statements and not the other.

Maybe you can…but I don’t think so.

When you start to change how you see children, when you start to respect them as equal humans – with just as much value, worth, autonomy and voice as adults – you start to question how the church says they should be treated by their parents and other adults.

And you start to wonder how the church thinks Father God treats them, how He sees them. Because if they want us to parent like God, then they must believe God parents us that way.

I believe that they are intimately connected and cannot be separated. It’s like a mirror…if you only choose to look and really see.

So do you like what you see? Or are you ready for something different?

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