Why do laws exist? Is it to imprison law-breakers or to protect “law-abiding citizens”? I posit the latter. The laws of a free and democratic government are implemented so that we, the citizens, can live our lives in freedom and security. The laws give us the freedom to walk down the street without fear of theft or bodily injury. They secure our property and individual rights. (I’m speaking idealistically, I know. Yes, I lock my doors at night, and no, I don’t walk down dark alleys by myself.) Penalties, fines, and imprisonment are secondary issues. They are not the purpose of the law but more like a . . . a side effect or inescapable consequence of having laws. And yet we use that word security for prisons: “a maximum-security facility.” Scary place. I don’t want to go there any more than I want to walk down that dark alley.
So security has at least two meanings. There’s also the one that has to do with guaranteeing loans (Proverbs 11:15), but I’m just going to skip that meaning for today. Consider these sentences:
- He is very secure in his manhood. confident
- The security for the museum has some weak points. protection
- That job will provide excellent financial security. sufficiency
- She sought the security of her father’s arms. safety
- Ensure that your safety harnesses are secure! latched
Hmm . . . Though related, there’s a large range of meanings here. Now picture these scenes:
A three-year-old child running along the beach with abandon
A prison cell with a heavily-armed guard outside the door
Both images speak of security. The child is (somewhat ignorantly) confident that someone is watching and will stop her before she endangers herself. She trusts her parent (or other care-giver), and so she moves freely. The prison cell prevents the one inside from leaving; ostensibly protecting the rest of us from whatever threat he poses, but the focus is much more on confining him than on protecting everyone else.
I began thinking about this word after a conversation based on James 1:25, But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. I know James crammed a lot into this verse and this paragraph, but these days I’m stuck at the perfect law that gives freedom. See, at first, that phrase felt contradictory. Don’t laws impede our freedoms? But the purpose of the law, as I processed above, is to provide security, which creates the space for freedom. David had the same idea: I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts (Psalm 119:45).
At the same time, I’ve been pondering a question unique to God-fearing parents: How do we use the Bible in discipline and guidance without beating our kids over the head with it? It seems rather easy to push them into resentment of His Word when we rather than the Holy Spirit use it too harshly in rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Not that we shouldn’t use the Word, just that we need to have a gentle hand and a rightly-motivated heart. (I have at times considered the effectiveness of actually hitting them on the head with the biggest, heaviest Bible in the house. Just kidding . . . mostly.)
As our children age, it’s difficult for us parents to find the line between protective, confidence-boosting security and imprisoning security. We’ve all heard parents say, “As long as you live under my roof, you’ll follow my rules!” Nothing wrong with that thought, but it sounds a lot more like confinement than confidence. Others say, “Oh, I want my child to just be herself, so I haven’t given her any rules.” That’s not security of any sort. Such a child is often injured, sometimes fearful, and grows up to be a slave to her own selfishness. Another type of prison.
Here’s the crux of the matter, and I don’t really know how to do it—no magic three-step formula—so I’m just laying it out as something to ponder. As the God-ordained law-makers in our homes, we parents must bring the Word of God (that perfect law of James 1:25) up under our children, supporting them and securing them. We cannot lay it over them like prison bars designed to restrain them. Confining security is born out of fear and perhaps vengeance/punishment, but supporting security is born out of love and confidence that God’s Word really is perfect and sufficient. I’m thinking about Psalm 19:7-11.
The first challenge for parents involves living this way ourselves: the Word of God supports and sustains us, and obedience springs out of love and/or gratitude. My 9-year-old’s teacher recently said, “Obedience is the fruit, not the root.” If we model that the Law of the Lord is oppressive or obligatory, our children will ‘catch’ that same attitude. I have to live in the freedom intrinsic to His Law.
Secondly, let’s look at the New Testament references to the Bible as a weapon. I write this because we sometimes try to use it to keep our children ‘in line.’ We take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) to battle our enemies, not to correct our fellow soldiers. And in Hebrews, we read, the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (4:12). Clearly, the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict and call. Even as parents, however, we aren’t qualified to wield God’s Word in this way for someone else’s life. The Bible cannot become a tool for punishment in our homes.
Maybe a different illustration will help. Parents are like dirt. (Some of your kids would really like this analogy already!) A tree grows out of the dirt, secured more and more strongly as its roots grow deeper and broader. When the strong winds come, the dirt holds the roots which hold the tree in place. But dirt also covers coffins, actually confining them underground. So what do you want your children—at least their spiritual lives—to be? A living, growing, beautiful tree? Or a dead, shriveled corpse that will never see the light of day again? Well, that’s how you and I both need to focus our parenting.