I hesitate to write this post simply because the world we live in today has a tendency to define everything as abuse, and when everything is abuse, nothing is anymore.
I spent many years working for our domestic violence sexual assault program so I know what abuse is, but at the same time I was also observing our culture’s plunge into insanity, to where the system began to see abuse everywhere, in everything. I remember someone threw a piece of banana at a spouse and it was deemed 4th degree assault. Kids started threatening to call the cops on their parents, take away my toys, that’s destruction of personal property, ground me, that’s unlawful imprisonment. What started shifting was power and who held it, and authority and who had it.
Our own kids reflected these cultural shifts too, and often hubby and I were left either outright laughing or scratching our head in puzzlement as if to say, you’re kidding me, right? Our kids had no idea what abuse even was, but hubby and I sure did. In spite of our best efforts to explain the difference between discipline and abuse to them, the culture intruded too often and too frequently.
I don’t envy parents these days at all, and I am grateful all our children are nearly grown. To love them properly you must set some boundaries and teach them how to be in the world, but today anything you say and do can and will be used against you.
There is a backlash going on in our world right now, where we have gone from one abusive extreme to another. You see this manifested in all the outright rebellion against any kind of authority, except ironically, in some quarters, government authority. Don’t ask me to explain that one, I don’t get it. I know women who won’t have anything to do with marriage, with the church, with any dependence on a man whatsoever, but they’ll happily remain completely dependent on the full force and weight of our welfare system. Kids who scoff at the very idea of honoring your mother and father, but who will hang on every word coming from their schools and televisions. People who will swear allegiance to a particular political party, as if the government is the most qualified to protect us…even from our own selves.
I really don’t understand any of this.
I do however, understand abuse and some of the issues that can come up there, about how if you grow up within chaos, confusion and violence, odds are pretty good you will have issues with authority. Those childhood scripts can be powerful things, strongholds that create a great deal of confusion. Heck, chaos, confusion, and violence as adults can throw us for a complete loop, you can imagine what it is like for children who have no defenses and few resources. It messes with your head. You’ll either learn to seek authority in all the wrong places, reject it outright as always bad, or start believing the personal is political and go on a social justice campaign, hoping to change the whole world….
I never really understood this in the context of faith, in how harmful those scripts can be, in how damaging genuine abuse is when it comes to our relationship with God. On the internet some people create this caricature of an old testament God, unmerciful, controlling, abusive, and people reject Him outright because of those false perceptions. That is not God however, that is someone trying to create God in their own image or in the image of someone who hurt them.
I run into this communication problem frequently. I am prone to say things like, “God is scary, fear of God is a real thing,” and yet it is the kind of fear you should run towards, it signals not abuse, but rather protection, provision, the power to move mountains. Not necessarily the kind of authority you want to cross, but people have to remember grace, mercy, forgiveness. We are so loved we were worth dying for. We have been ransomed, redeemed, we are His children. God doesn’t turn us all into a pillar of salt at the first sign of our failings or else the whole world would be comprised of nothing but pillars of salt.
Chastisement is another concept that winds up sounding crazy, as in who would welcome that? The thing is, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth…” Discipline is such a gentle word, it comes from the same word as to teach. Those who followed Christ as a teacher were called His disciples. Sometimes those who play fine music or dance elegantly are called disciplined. Discipline is a skill. The old fashioned word chasteneth means to teach, to correct, to restrain, to moderate, to purify for the sake of improvement..
Chastisement is not related to abuse, but rather to love, to purify for the sake of improvement.
Authority is also related to love, not too abuse. A big part of recognizing authority is about a desire to be pleasing, a desire to seek someone’s favor. We do not seek to be pleasing or seek the favor of those we believe have no authority. Children, at least when they are young, have a desire to please parents because they recognize your authority. Kids love their parents and love denotes a kind of authority. The power imbalance in that relationship indicates authority too, Mom and Dad provide the food, shelter, and wisdom needed in order for you to survive.
All over the world I see this breakdown, these challenges we are all facing where people have become very confused about the nature of power, of authority, about the difference between abuse and love. It’s as if this big pot has been all stirred up and what we’re now facing is a whole lot of chaos and confusion.
The problem with having no authority, no delineation of power, is that it is actually cruel, it creates this kind of moral ambiguity and chaos in a world with no boundaries, where anything goes, where there is no justice, no foundation to build security upon. That’s actually a scary place to be, not unlike free falling through the universe.
That spirit is well upon us. I don’t understand it or where it all leads, but I do know the Great Physician whose Authority is perfect and just and wise, and I know His word that explains everything.