Five years ago we sent our daughter to Awana at a nearby church. We like the Bible and we want our kids to learn and love it. We sent her, confident that she would have a good time and hopefully learn a little. In general, this was a positive experience for both her and us. We got to know some of the people at that church, the same church our other daughter went to for preschool (and later Awana) and there was lots of kids crafts and silliness which kept her entertained.
One night after Awana, our daughter was a little wound up. She wasn’t listening at all, running, laughing, singing when we started to go through her bedtime routine. We tried in vain to get her and her siblings to bed. We were exasperated. So, I made my angry dad face and scolded her sternly. I remember a look of shock before she ran off to finally got ready. Parenting win, I thought. When she had her pajamas on, she came up to me, tears in her eyes. She looked up at me and said with a whimper, “Dad, I’m sorry for sinning.”
It didn’t take me long to connect the dots. She came home from Awana where she had learned that Everyone has sinned. No one has lived up to God’s glory (Romans 3:23 NrIV). They had a short devotional teachings about what kids do that are sinful (like disobeying their parents), so that they’d accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. She probably learned in the same lesson that When you sin, the pay you get is death. (Romans 6:23a NrIV). When her Wednesday night exuberance caused me to react in anger, she felt ashamed. Shame at who she was—a five year old hardened sinner who stayed up way too late and liked to sing. I doubt that this exact message was the one her Awana leaders intended, but it was the one she got.
I have a big problem with that.
I agree with her Awana leaders that sin is a universal problem, one dealt with decisively by Christ on the cross. But for the life of me, I can’t picture God punishing my little girl with eternal conscious torment because she was hyper and distracted at bedtime. The truth is, a lot of kid’s willful disobedience, while exasperating, is pretty adorable. If God enjoys my kids as much as I do (and I know he does), I doubt he would even been angry if he was the one tasked with tucking them in that night. Kids are kids. He probably would laugh the way I laugh before my patience wears thin.
God is our loving Father; yet sometimes our theology paints Him as less loving than we are with our own kids. We take great pains to not shame our kids when they misbehave, but ironically we’ve been taught to shame sinners. A couple of centuries of revivalist spirituality taught us to get people to seek the gospel remedy by getting them to feel sorrow for their sins. How can something be good theology and bad psychology? Shaming sinners gets it wrong.
Certainly I could think of out of bounds behaviors and more serious offenses my kids might do that demands an adequate response. Sin is a real issue in all our lives that we need to confess it and repent of it. But I’ve grown wary of this shaming spirituality we see in Evangelical statements, children’s curriculum, Sunday sermons and worship songs. There has to be a better way.