In my last post, I shared how and why Unconditional Parenting resonates with my understanding of God. (I’ve been talking about Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting, and its implications for me, for a while now, starting here). I touched on the reasons I look to Jesus, rather than God as represented in the Old Testament, in order to understand God’s nature.
I thought I’d add a few more thoughts on the subject of God and punishment in the Old Testament.
One of Alfie Kohn’s more surprising insights, for me, was that punishment doesn’t work to produce good behavior in the long run (and often even in the short run).
I have never seen this truth played out more clearly than in the Old Testament.
(I explained in my last post that I believe that the Old Testament offers an incomplete picture of God. The stories in the Old Testament do, however, portray a painfully accurate picture of us.)
Over and over and over again, God’s people stray from goodness. They hoard, grumble, murder, rape, steal, bicker, and condemn one another. In the OT stories, God punishes them, they repent . . . and then, hardly skipping a beat, they turn around and start doing evil all over again. They go back to worshipping idols, fighting amongst themselves, and disobeying his laws.
Re-read some of these stories. It’s astonishing how little time it takes before they return to their evil ways.
Punishment seems to have no effect whatsoever on these disobedient, treacherous people.
Likewise, Kohn points out that rewards fail to improve behavior, and instead is often counter-productive.
We see this truth played out in the Old Testament, too:
God rescues the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and lovingly guides them through the desert, providing miraculous sources of food, warmth and light; they turn around and build themselves a golden calf the second their leader isn’t looking.
God blesses David with power and riches; David goes and steals another man’s wife by having him killed in battle.
God rewards Solomon with wisdom and prosperity; Solomon goes and builds himself a harem, an extravagant palace, and a bunch of temples to other gods.
Clearly, rewards don’t work, either.
Finally, the Old Testament comes to a close, and it’s as if God declares, “All right: enough of this. Nothing I do can make my people love me or behave decently towards one another. I’m leaving it up to grace.
“Anyone who wants me can have me – freely. No strings attached.
“They don’t deserve it, but I don’t care. I love them too much to leave it up to them.”
And that’s where Jesus steps in.
* * *
If punishing and rewarding his people didn’t even work for God, I’m doubtful that it’s going to work for me in getting my kid to behave well. That’s why I want to parent like Jesus: unconditionally.
Image courtesy of le vent le cri.