Sovereignty vs. Control – An Illustration from Parenthood

spoiledAs I look back, I am always amazed at how much my view of God changed after becoming a parent. Parenting gives us a whole new perspective on our relationship with God, and a much more accurate understanding of our Father’s heart. So it’s helpful to keep the parent-child relationship in view as we try to understand how God is working in our lives.

The issue of sovereignty vs. control that I referred to in the “Of Sparrows, Blue Jays and Tornadoes” post is a case in point. We can better understand that sovereignty and control are not the same thing when we take a look at our own households and our interactions with our children. Few would argue that in a healthy family, the parents are “sovereign” over the household. That sovereignty includes the authority to establish the rules of the household – for everything from how the family finances are to be handled, to whose job it is to take out the trash. Household rules & policies exist for several reasons: to keep order in the house, to teach children life skills, and at least in part to teach children intangible things like character and obedience (that phrase makes me think of about a dozen Calvin & Hobbes cartoons.) If the parents abdicate their authority and allow the children of the family to do whatever they see fit, chaos will soon rule the house. We have probably all seen families where the kids in some measure are in charge – at least in some area of family life – and it’s not a pretty picture.

So, both by experience and common sense, we can see that parental sovereignty is not only necessary for order, but also works toward the benefit and well-being of everyone in the family. However, every parent knows that a child can be willfully disobedient and at times refuse to follow the rules that the parent has established. What then? Does this willful disobedience on the part of the child somehow destroy the parents’ sovereignty? Does it diminish the parents’ moral authority? No, of course not. The parents’ sovereignty is based on their position as parents, not on their ability or willingness to control every one of their child’s actions. In other words, the parents’ sovereignty is in no way dependent on, or diminished by, the thoughts or actions of the children.

We as parents do not delude ourselves into thinking that we have complete control over our children’s thoughts and actions. We also do not despair that when (not if) our children disobey, we have lost our sovereignty over the household. We want our children to follow our instruction and walk in the ways they have been taught, but we also want them to do so voluntarily as a natural result of the relationship we have with them and the training they have received. No psychologically healthy parent wants to raise a child to be a mindless puppet who cannot think for themselves and function independently.

Now if by looking at family relationships we can clearly see that absolute parental control of every action and outcome is not necessary or even desirable, then we should also clearly recognize that the same principle holds true in our relationship with our Father. In His goodness, He has created us with a freedom of thought and action that gives us room for both obedience and disobedience. When we disobey Him, it does not diminish His sovereignty over His kingdom. And when we obey Him, it glorifies Him and brings joy to both Him and us.

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