Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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 Badly."

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 when I read this verse, one little word leaps 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 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.

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 out by 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" don'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 attacking 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 functionally believe that God is who He says He is or that His promises are true. (See my recent post "What the Law Could Not Do, Christ Did" as an illustration of this truth in light of jealousy.)

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 I want to apply this same thoughtfulness and gospel-centeredness to parenting. I don't want to be the kind of parent David was. By the grace of God, I hope that I won't just seek to correct bad behavior. I pray that I'll apply the gospel and shepherd Elijah's heart--that I'll get at the "WHY" behind his sin so that he can walk in that same cancer-free joy and freedom, thanks to the cross.

(revised version of a post originally published on May 11, 2006)

1 comment:

zoanna said...

I certainly regret that I didn't grow up realizing how my sin was first and foremost against a holy God. I'm sure I heard it a few times, but it didn't register. Our kids hear it all the time; I hope and trust that the familiarity of the truth doesn't make it less effective. They seem to understand, from what I can see of their spiritual lives. Thanks for posting this.