Yesterday I helped a toddler clean up a 44 ounce cup of Coke Zero he’d spilled everywhere (yes, it was mine; and no, there were not 44 ounces left remaining in it when he found it). I answered forty questions about whether Jesus made Lego blocks (so stay tuned for my new sermon series on “The Logos and the Legos”). And I disciplined a tantrum thrower and a sulker. All of that was about the end times. When we think of Christian eschatology, we tend to think first of prophecy charts or apocalyptic novels, but nothing is more eschatological than parenting. A parent disciplining a child, for instance, communicates to the child the discipline and judgment of God in ways deeper and more resonant than any Sunday school lesson (Heb 12:5-11).
A parent who will not discipline a child for disobedience, or who is inconsistent in doing so, is teaching that child not to expect consequences for behavior. Parenting in the twenty-first century. In short, a parent who will not discipline is denying the doctrine of hell. At the same time, a parent who disciplines in anger or with harshness teaches a judgment of God that is capricious and unjust. An abusive parent, worst of all, ingrains in a child’s mind a picture of God as a ruthless devil who cannot be trusted to judge justly. Parental discipleship and discipline ought always to have repentance and restoration in view, picturing a God who is both just and the justifier (Rom 3:26). Discipline should be swift and fair with quick reconciliation between parent and child.
Long periods of “time out” do not communicate the discipline of God; they communicate the isolation and exile of hell. Parents who spend time with their children, especially at meals, demonstrate something of the harmony they want their children to long for beyond this life. It’s a longing to eat at another Father’s table in the kingdom of Christ. Moreover, we should teach children to respect and acknowledge authority, attributes necessary for citizens of a democracy for a short time, yes, but more necessary for subjects of a kingdom forever. Teaching children to refer to adults as “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” or “Pastor Doe” and to say “sir” and “ma’am” (or the culturally equivalent signifiers of authority) is about more than politeness. It is training children to recognize proper hierarchy and authority when the veil is lifted and we see face to face.
Those of you who are parents probably grow weary and discouraged sometimes. I know I do. It seems as though you’re not “getting through” sometimes, that your children aren’t responding the way you thought they would. Keep hugging. Keep kissing. Keep chastising. Keep teaching. This is a long-term project. You’ve got a long-term project in front of you. And there’s a lot at stake. After all, parenting isn’t about behavior modification. It’s about Christian eschatology. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.