Monday, April 29, 2013

Over-Protection, God and Evil

The other day I was reading an interesting article about parenting. It brought up two mistakes that today's parents often make that have crippled the next generation, and many of us. The specific points may shed some light on a couple of challenges that skeptics offer against Christianity.

The article is Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids...And How to Correct Them by Tim Elmore.

The article is written from a religiously agnostic perspective- Elmore makes no religious appeals to support his conclusions. The first two points in the article are what I want to focus on: the facts that parents are unwilling to takes risks with their kids and jump in too quickly to rescue their kids from "dangerous" situations.

Not Risky Enough
His first point about risks is simply that parents over-protect their kids. They do not allow their kids to do things that may cause even minor harm. Parents are too proactive in protecting children from harm that the children don't get the important experiences until they are in the real world and have no idea how to react appropriately. Elmore points out that this teaches our children that if there is a risk of any kind of danger, that the risk is too great- it is always better to be safe than sorry, even if the latter possibility is minuscule relative to the reward. This leads to not just a fear of physical activities, but also a fear of failure in general and an aversion to anything that is unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable. This also develops an expectation that when they take a risk, that buffers should always exist to prevent them from getting hurt if they do fail.


Too Quick To The Rescue
The second point addresses parents' tendency to jump too quickly if they realize that they have failed to provide such buffers as explained above. The parent sees such a failure to provide a buffer as a failure as a parent. So they attempt to compensate by rescuing the child from the situation before any "harm" can come to them. This results in the child not learning from their mistakes and always expecting that if they fail, then their parents will be there to immediately work against any kind of consequences. Obviously, this leads to an expectation of the real world that simply is not there. Such behavior by the parents seem to be loving in the short-term, but end up being detrimental in the long-run.

I believe that the expectations that these two behaviors by parents promote have profound effects on how the new generation understands that God should be like, since He is referred to as "Father".

The Problem of Pain
These behaviors by parents make kids fear any kind of pain- whether it is physical or emotional. They also fear merely being uncomfortable- embarrassed or offended. In his book "The Grand Weaver" Ravi Zacharias explains that pain and suffering are two of God's tools to build the character of His children and bring them closer to Him. In my post "Solving The Problem of Evil" I  explain that pain and suffering are necessary for man to recognize the truth of his own need for God and how far his character is from Christ's.

When people see that God allows pain and suffering in their lives, they may be tempted to look back at how their parents protected them from all pain and suffering. This could lead to believing that that is how a good parent, a father-figure, should act. They see that God does not act that way, so they would conclude that God is not good, not all-loving, and does not love them individually.

Elmore points out in his article that this is an incorrect and detrimental way to parent. He points to the necessity of allowing pain and suffering in the life of the child to prepare them for the real world. Likewise, God, being the perfect Father, allows pain and suffering in the lives of people to bring them to Him and in the lives of His children to bring them closer to and make them more like Him.

The Hiddenness of God
Elmore's second point is a big on that vividly answers why God seems so hidden. People like their heroes and rescuers. When they fail, they want to be rescued so they won't have to suffer any consequences. They also want to be rescued from any situation that may cause them pain that they do not directly cause. "If God is good, then He will always rescue me from these situations so I never experience pain and suffering; He does not, so He must not be there," they argue.

Elmore explains that parents need to remain hidden if they wish for their kids to learn lessons from the experiences of life- lessons that include what they were doing was wrong or how to maneuver through difficult situations. Likewise, God remains hidden quite often in our lives because He has the purpose of building our character. If parents rescue us from every possible bad situation, we won't learn a thing. If God rescues us from every possible bad situation, we won't learn a thing. In fact, if wrong actions don't have consequences for us, we will continue to do them.

It is true that God is hidden. But that is not a bad thing. It is a necessary thing; it is a morally obligatory thing. Since morality is grounded in God's character, why would we expect God to behave any differently?

Conclusion
I'm not sure that there is a necessary connection for individuals between over-protection and the challenges against Christianity, but it seems that the connection may at least be general to the culture. Regardless of where exactly the connection is, the parallels are quite striking. A lot of the force of the arguments against God from pain and His hiddenness may be coming from an incorrect view of what a "good" parent (or father) should be. If people recognize that parents shouldn't be too afraid of pain and suffering in their children's lives, with the purpose in mind that they will benefit in the future, then they need to recognize that as "Father", the Christian God acts in the same way.

As defenders of Christianity, when a skeptic (or a fellow Christian) brings up this challenge (or complaint), we can appeal to their parents and children- did their parents have a purpose behind not always protecting or rescuing them; and do they, as parents, have a purpose behind not always protecting or rescuing their kids? If the answer to either (or both) is "yes", then if they wish to maintain the challenge, they need to explain how the Christian God must not act similarly.

Because Elmore makes his case without any religious appeals, interestingly enough, if naturalists agree with Elmore's conclusions and act upon them in their own parenting, they may very well be undermining a couple of objections that they may teach their kids to raise against Christianity. If they don't agree or act upon Elmore's conclusions, they will be risking the future success, thrivability, and pleasurable experiences of their children...what a dilemma for the naturalist!