Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Why Behind the What

"His father had never interfered with him by asking, 'Why do you behave as you do?'" (1 Kings 1:6)

David is dying. His son Solomon has already been named as the one who will inherit the throne. But the rebellious and prideful Adonijah has other plans, and sets himself up to become king. In the introduction to the story, the author of 1 Kings inserts the statement above as a parenthetical explanation: "Why Adonijah Turned Out Bad."

The application I've always heard taught is the obvious one: Parents, look what happens when you don't discipline your kids. The most loving thing to do is to discipline them; otherwise, look how drastically their character could go wrong. Lazy parenting, permissiveness, failure to rein in your kids now will reap devastating results down the road.

True, perhaps. But this morning one little word leaped off the page at me: WHY. It doesn't say, "His father had never interfered with him by punishing him for his bad behavior." It says his father had never interfered with him by asking, "WHY do you behave as you do?"

The more I've learned over the last few months about gospel-centered living, the more I've begun to understand how crucial it is to look for the "WHY" behind the "what." The fact is, wrong thinking underlies wrong actions. Sin is not a behavior problem; it is a heart problem. And if you dig deeply enough, you'll find that at the root of your sinful actions is a flawed thought pattern. Buried beneath the pride, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, is some sort of unbelief--a misconception of God's character; a failure to trust Him; a lack of faith in His promises of future grace.

As John Piper says in Future Grace, it's bad news--the sin is more devastating than you thought; its roots are embedded far more deeply in your soul than you realized--but it's good news. For when we discover the real problem at its core, we can apply the gospel and trust the power of the cross to pull the sin up from its roots--rather than cutting off the weed only to have it spring back again.

We tend to moralize without applying the gospel. We do it with the unbelieving world as we denounce their sins without addressing their lostness, and we do it in our own pursuit of holiness. It's easier. Problem with lust? Stop looking at porn. Problem with laziness? Get disciplined and work harder. Problem with lying? Start telling the truth.

But these "solutions" doesn't cut at the root of the sin. They're like taking an aspirin to heal a headache caused by a brain tumor.

Aspirin may seem to bring relief to the situation, but it's a temporary fix. Only cutting out the tumor can truly solve the problem--and only the gospel has the power to destroy the cancerous tumor of sin. We must dig deeper. We must treat the cause and not just the symptom. Why am I so full of lust? Why am I slothful and completely unmotivated? Why do I seek to cover up the truth? Somehow, the heart of the matter is that I act the way I do because, regardless of what I profess to believe, in some way I don't practically believe that God is who He says He is or that His promises are true.

It's much more difficult to ask the probing questions and discover the "WHY." Brain surgery is a lot more invasive and painful and complicated and messy than popping a Tylenol. But I want to learn to do this kind of soul-examination. I don't want temporary headache relief; I want that destructive tumor out of my head. I want to live in the joy and abundance of fully believing God and trusting His promises to pour out His grace in my life.

And when I, Lord willing, become a mother someday, I don't want to be the kind of parent David was. By the grace of God, I hope that I won't just congratulate myself on a job well done when I discipline my children and punish their bad behavior. I pray that I'll apply the gospel and shepherd their hearts--that I'll get at the "WHY" behind their sin so that they can walk in that same cancer-free joy and freedom, thanks to the cross.


Anonymous said...

This is exactly what Ted Tripp is teaching in the book, Sheparding a Childs Heart. I recommend this study to any parent or potential parent. The heart of the matter is always more important than just fixing the behavior "problem".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fresh reminder! My favorite book on parenting is The Duties of Parents, by J.C.Ryle. I read it every year. It's really for anyone who has interactions with children (aunts, teachers, babysitters, etc.) It's short and you can find the whole thing here if you don't mind reading it on a computer screen: