Monthly Archives: March 2014
By Andrew Shanks
My 5-year-old daughter is fine with scary stories until she has to go to bed. The trouble starts when she is lying under the covers in her darkened room, separated from her parents not only by the admittedly small distance of a few yards and one wall but also by the infinitely vaster distance of imagination. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I can still recall my 11-year-old self, hunkered down with a neighborhood playmate, reading ghost stories (against my parents’ advice) and being certain, in the full light of day, that such ridiculous stories would never affect me. I didn’t sleep for a week.
My daughter, Julienne, is similarly full of confidence during the day and similarly terrified at night. Seemingly innocuous images catalyze this reaction in her 5-year-old mind. Once it was the giant depicted in Mickey and the Beanstalk. We dealt with that one for several nights. Once it was a mildly disturbing character from a children’s magazine, even though that character was clearly intended to come across as impish. There was a dragon from one story or another. The odd witch or two. Julienne has yet to experience such classics as Disney’s Snow White or Cinderella, not because we have anything against those movies, but because we know she won’t be able to handle the villains depicted in them.
I am called into my daughter’s room to reassure her in her moments of fear, what strategy should I adopt to alleviate my child’s fear in her time of need? When Julienne is afraid of a cartoon giant crushing our house or carrying her away, I can respond by saying something like, “Sweetheart, giants aren’t real: they’re just characters in stories. You don’t need to worry about that. Go back to sleep.” Or when she is concerned about the incendiary ramifications of a passing dragon’s exhalations, I can counter, “Dragons don’t really exist, honey. You don’t need to be afraid of dragons.” This is what many parents do in similar circumstances, and it may often be the best course of action.
But is it always? Is it possible we’re actually doing them a disservice in the long run? Here’s what I mean: The “It’s not real” argument may certainly work when used in reference to a dragon, an ogre, a giant, or a witch. But it will not work when used to combat the real fears of pain, loss, heartbreak, loneliness, betrayal, and sin. So would it be valuable for parents of young children, like myself, to consider an alternative strategy for dealing with our children’s current fears, in the hope that it will translate into habitual practice of handling fear throughout their lives?
Here are two biblical ways we can address our children’s current fears and teach them how to handle the other fears that will inevitably emerge from the shadows later on.
Teach them that God is more fearful than our fears.
One of the most awe-inspiring ways God shows himself in Scripture is in what theologians call storm theophanies (for example, Ex. 13:21; 14:19-21; 19:16-19, 1 Sam. 7:10; 1 Kg. 8:10-11; 18:38, 19:11-12, Job 36:24-38:1; Ps. 18:7-15). Perceiving God in the midst of the storm helps us grasp his power and his majesty. But it also helps us remember the only one who ought to cause us to fear: God himself. As Jesus teaches:
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)
How does teaching our children to fear God help them handle their other fears? If we prayerfully employ the Scriptures in our efforts, two responses will follow. First, the fear of God will vastly outweigh other, lesser concerns. And second, the fear of God will give birth to confidence in God. This is what we see happening in the life of David in Psalm 18. After reflecting on the terrifying magnificence of God in verses 7-15, he is led to announce his own salvation by God in verses 16-19.
Teaching our children to tremble before the Lord is a task we must embrace all the time, not just in moments of darkness-inspired fear.
Teach them that God will protect us from what is most fearful.
The second lesson we must instill in our children is the liberating truth that God will protect us from what is most fearful. The challenge here is to find the balance in emphasis between the reassurance that God will protect us and the clarification that God’s protection might include real pain and suffering. Another way of expressing this idea is to say that while God has never promised us that we won’t be cast into the furnace, he has shown us that we won’t go through it alone (see Isa. 43:1-2).
When Julienne calls me into her room out of fear of dragons or giants, I try to remind her of these things. I tell her that God loves her and is more to be feared than any monster. I tell her that Jesus died for her and that even if something bad were to happen, it would only mean that she would be with him that much sooner. I tell her that, while I’m pretty sure all the giants died off a long time ago and that I’ve never seen a dragon in these parts, if one or the other does show up, she can trust me to fight it off for her.
I tell her these things because I know the dragons and giants will morph into their real-life counterparts: the all-consuming destruction of self-love and the brutal ugliness of sin. And when the day of that battle arrives, she needs a sharper sword in her hand than my whispered delusion, “They’re not real.” Such a dull blade will never penetrate dragon scales or giant’s hide. But the monster has yet to be spawned that can withstand the fury of the protective love of the heavenly Father.
These are the truths that calm the night terrors of 5-year-olds in my house. Indeed, these are the truths that calm my own.
Ray Ortlund does a great job in defining marriage. It is unfortunate but we do need to keep reminding ourselves of the fundamental truths from God’s Word about marriage in a world that has confused it, even for Christians. He writes:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
It is not true that the Bible teaches multiple views of marriage, and therefore the Bible’s clarity is diminished on this question. The Bible does record, for example, that “Lamech took two wives” (Genesis 4:19). But the Bible is not thereby endorsing polygamy, but indeed is casting doubt on polygamy. The role of Lamech in the text is to show “a progressive hardening in sin” (Waltke, Genesis, page 100). We invented polygamy, along with other social evils. But God gave us marriage.
The Bible defines marriage in Genesis 2:24, quoted above. Here is what this very significant verse is saying:
Therefore. This word signals that Moses is adding an aside to his narrative. It’s as if we are sitting in Moses’ living room, watching his DVD of the creation of the universe (Genesis 1) and of man and woman (Genesis 2). At this point he hits the pause button on the remote, the screen freezes, he turns to us post-fall people watching these amazing events and he says, “Now let me explain how what God did so long ago is normative for us today. Amazingly, we still retain something beautiful from the Garden of Eden.”
A man shall leave his father and his mother. In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, this is striking. A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors. He breaks away from them for the sake of a more profound loyalty.
And hold fast to his wife. A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart. He rejoices to identify with her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23). At every level of his being, he becomes wholeheartedly devoted to her, as to no other.
And they shall become one flesh. “One flesh” is essential to the biblical view of marriage. It means, one mortal life fully shared. Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth. No barriers. No hiding. No aloofness. Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them. Moreover, Jesus explained that, behind the word “become,” God is there: “What therefore God has joined together . . .” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage is not a product of human social evolution. Marriage came down from God. And he defined it for us. He has the right to. It belongs to him.
One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throw-away line. Its very purpose is to define.
What’s more, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to take our understanding a step further — an amazing step: “We are members of [Christ’s] body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:30-31). Did you notice his logic? “We are members of Christ’s body. He loved us. He chose us. He gave himself up for us. He embraced us. He is with us. He will present us someday in splendor. All of this glory is ours, because we are united with him now and forever. Therefore, this is why, our union with Christ is the reason why, a man and women get married and live united as ‘one flesh.’ Human marriages are miniature social platforms on which the gospel is to be displayed.”
Marriage is a gospel issue. That is the ultimate reason why clarity about its definition matters. People who depart from, or fail to stand up for, the biblical view of marriage are taking a step away from the gospel itself. The whole Bible is the story of the marital love of God, as I demonstrate in this book . Our whole lives are that story, if we have eyes to see.
Marriage is more than human romance, wonderful as that is. Marriage is the display of Christ and his Bride in love together. A beautiful, tender, thriving, Ephesians 5-kind of marriage makes the gospel visible on earth, bringing hope to people who have given up believing there could be any love anywhere for them. That is why biblical marriage deserves our courageous loyalty today. And that is why, in our increasingly secular times, biblical marriage is under pressure. Its true meaning is understood and embodied and sustained only by the power of the gospel.
We can’t turn the clock back to the days of the Christian social consensus the West has foolishly thrown away. But we who say we believe the gospel can and must stand up for the biblical definition of marriage. We must cultivate beautiful marriages ourselves. We must suffer social rejection bravely. We must pray for revival. We must wait for the inevitable collapse of every false view of marriage. We must lovingly serve all who suffer for their foolish attempts at false “marriages.” And we must go to church this Sunday and worship the living God with all our hearts, so that we ourselves are sustained for faithfulness over the long haul, because this isn’t going to be easy.