Friday, June 11, 2010

Punishments and Rewards

In my last post, I asked if it matters why we're following God, or if it just matters that we're following him regardless of the reason why. I likened it to my children obeying me; I want them to obey me out of the love and trust in our relationship and not because they're seeking a reward or afraid of being punished.

I want to talk about that a little more. Because children begin forming their understanding of God based on their parents, I think it's important for Christian parents to be aware of what our interactions with our children may be teaching them about God. Believe me, I know that in the short term it can feel awfully tempting to hang rewards and punishments over our children's heads to get them to behave the way we want them to, but is it beneficial to them long-term? Is this how God relates to us? Does he want us to obey him because we're afraid of what he'll do if we disobey? Does he want us to obey him because we're seeking certain blessings? Or does he want us to obey him because of the love and trust in our relationship with him? (More on whether I think God rewards or punishes us based on behavior in another post, but the short answer is: I think he allows us to experience the natural consequences and outcomes of our actions, but that is not the same thing as adding on a punishment or reward.)

Long-term, both in life and in their understanding of God, does it help or hinder our children to tie the value of obedience to obtaining a reward or avoiding punishment? I would submit that at the very least, it's not helpful because it doesn't point them toward an accurate view of how God relates to us and it encourages less-than-great motivations for obedience. Now, obviously we are not God; we are human, and we won't always get it right. God's grace leaves room for our mistakes, but I do think it's a good idea to be cautious about the general parenting and discipline philosophies we embrace. Let's learn about how God responds to us and why he wants us to follow him, and then do our best to intentionally represent this in our interactions with our children.


  1. I think I tend to de-humanize God, believing that *why* I'm doing something I know he approves of doesn't matter to him. But I think you're right on. After all, both Testaments show that God does indeed have a heart that can be broken. If that's true, certainly his heart would prefer that I worship out of love, not out of fear or a desire to get something back.

  2. I know what you mean, and I agree. I definitely think, based on scripture, that God cares about the motives behind our actions and not just the actions themselves.