USA Today reports in its August 7 edition that two mountain villages in southern Switzerland have determined to ask God not to continue to shrink the massive Aletsch Glacier. Since 1678, villagers from the mountain hamlets of Fiesch and Fiescherta, which lie at the base of the glacier, have vowed to live virtuous lives if God would stop the advance of the glacier and thus spare their lives. After 400 years the villagers are concerned that their prayers have worked too well. So now these folks have petitioned the Pope to allow them to change their vow and now to ask God instead to stop shrinking the glacier and to reverse the impact of climate change.
This story illustrates an all too common human tendency. We believe that we can manipulate God by our behavior. If I am good today, God will surely notice and reward me in some way. Or, looked at from the opposite perspective, the thinking may be along the lines of I know I didn’t do everything I should have done today, but surely it is not fair for this to happen now. Such thinking is at cross purposes to the essence of the gospel. Only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on my behalf can turn aside the fierce and just wrath of God. Yet even as Christians, we are tempted to make deals with God–seeking to earn his blessing by being good.
Children are quick learners. They understand the deal-making mentality–they were born with it. It is our natural inclination to think that we can make deals with God. All of the things that Jesus accomplished for his people on the cross–justification for sin, the ability participate in the process of sanctification towards holiness, the rich inheritance of God’s mercy–are things that the natural mind believes can be achieved by making deals. So your children begin life as self-justifiers. They believe they can justify their own guilt. They believe they know how to be good, because “good” for them is doing what makes them happy. And lastly, your children believe that they are entitled to a rich inheritance because they have justified themselves. Practically, it looks like this: a sibling has a favorite toy. All the young child sees is that he should have the toy, especially since his sibling has had it a long time. Therefore, he is justified in taking it. This is acting in own best interest, which is consistent with the belief that personal pleasure, rather than holiness is the goal of his life. And after he has the toy, by whatever means, he is pleased because this immediate inheritance of the toy is rightfully his. As the child grows and learns about God, apart from the saving work of Christ, he sees God as someone with whom he can make deals to get what is rightfully his. So, he learns to make deals with God. For this child, God’s purpose in life is to make him happy.
Parents, what kind of model are you for your children? Do you live out the gospel or do you live out the deal-making model? Think about this before you answer. What do your children see in your daily life? If things don’t go well on a particular day, do you act as if others are the reason for your bad day? Internally, are you thinking that you deserved better than the events that happened on this day? If so, you are involved in deal making. Each day, including the events that God brings to that day, has opportunities to rejoice in the gospel-based grace of God. Whatever is good in my life comes from the loving care of God; it is not something that I have earned. When there are difficulties in life, these difficulties bring the opportunity to show our thankfulness to God by responding on the basis of the gospel grace of God. Christ has already made you right with God. This is the example you want to provide for your children. Remember, they are born to be deal makers. God has called you to show them something different–the gospel of Jesus Christ.