Sam, Total Depravity, and Discipline

My kid is just about my favorite thing in the world. Like they always say, until you have one you just can’t begin to fathom how you could love something that much. If he couldn’t crawl, smile, laugh, have a chubby belly, or chatter, I wouldn’t love him any less than I do. But he does all those things now, and if you ask me he’s just getting cuter by the day. He’s a happy, healthy little boy, and he’s brought all kinds of color to our world.

But Sam has a problem: he’s a sinner. We’ve known this in theory– he is, after all, a descendant of Adam, and therefore born into sin, just like we are (Rom 5:12). But lately we’ve actually begun to see a little of the fruit of that tiny, but sinful heart: he shoves our hand away if he doesn’t like what we’re doing, he clenches his jaw and shakes his head if he doesn’t like what we’re feeding him, he scowls and whines if he’s generally unhappy about something.

So the task of parental discipline has darkened the doorway of our house. We’ve tried to build a solid foundation for Sam, so that he knows he can trust us, that we’ll always love him, feed him, and protect him. Now we have to add some important infrastructure to that foundation: the fact that he needs to obey us. On paper, this makes complete sense. We aren’t perfect parents by any means, but we do have a 100% record of never forgetting to feed him, come back when we leave him with someone, keep him clean & warm, and generally shower him with affection. There’s every reason, then, for him to assume that when we don’t let him do something, or make him do something he doesn’t want to do, that we have a good reason for it– a reason that has his best interest in mind.

But again, Sam was born with an Adamic heart. Like the entire universe, he’s been tragically affected by the Fall, so things don’t work right. He doesn’t understand why we won’t let him go anywhere he wants, why he has to eat some things he doesn’t like, why he can’t scream and throw things at dinner. Which is where our discipline comes in. We have to train him to do certain things, not do other things, and obey his mommy and daddy. Lots of times he won’t like this at all, but it’s for his own good– to protect him, to teach him, to shape his character, and ultimately to point him to Christ and the Gospel.

You can see where I’m going with this. What we’re seeing in Sam is a perfect picture of what goes on in our own hearts every day. God has never been anything but kind to us. He has never failed to give us everything we need; in fact he’s pursued our good at great cost to himself. He’s been much better to us than we’ve been to Sam. But just like Sam, we have hearts that don’t want to trust and obey our Father. We want our own way. So we rebel, in obvious ways and in lots of subtle ways. And our Father has to discipline us. He has to overcome the hardness of our heart, show us how messed up we are, break us down, and rebuild us. Lots of times we don’t like this at all, but it’s for our own good– to protect us, to teach us, to shape our character, and ultimately to draw us to himself, which is our greatest good.

We will fail often in our discipline of Sam, because we’re sinners too. So at times we’ll all be frustrated and disappointed with each other for good reasons. But there’s comfort for all three of us in this: Our Father, though his discipline will hurt at times, will always be patient and loving with us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10).

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