Results tagged “Parenting” from Reformation21 Blog

Wise Technological Parenting

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It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc. Before I explain the reasons why I believe this, I want to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not a Luddite. I'm not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. Indeed, I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I'm profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of iPhones, iPads, and computers. It's wonderful to be able to stay in touch with family and friends around the world through FaceTime and Skype, as well as through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and, we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:

Internet Pornography. Internet porn is a pandemic of massive proportions. The statistics related to this wicked industry are staggering (see http://www.covenanteyes.com). The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. One in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with a porn addiction.

These statistics do not bode well for our youth. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 year olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention.

Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Having served in youth ministry for over ten years, there was always a steady stream of students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been regularly looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems.

For most the problem begins in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and immature. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and their attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are natural and good. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert these desires. Satan has come to "steal, kill, and destroy" (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing so through the porn industry.

To allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online-- and the consequences will be long-term. Therefore, any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting profoundly foolish.

Ungodly Relationships. The world of social media and mobile connectivity is also causing significant issues among our youth. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. One friend shared with me that their seventh grade granddaughter had sent and received over 10,000 texts in a couple of weeks-- partly because she was texting half the night with her friends. Her parents weren't too happy with the over-usage fees that appeared on their monthly bill!

Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media sites would be off-limits if parents actually knew what was being seen and said. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children if we are ignorant of the substance of their relationships? God's Word teaches us that "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability and oversight, then we are being unwise at best.

There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody's doing it and we shouldn't make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn't be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the word of God and the spiritual health of our children.

Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:

Password Protect/Block Internet Access. Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected! This includes devices that a friend or neighbor may bring into your home. Make sure that you change your device passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers, and the search engine for Instagram contains a cesspool of filth). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.

Strict Oversight/Social Media. How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child's room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of personal pictures? How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? That's essentially what's happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child's time on social media, especially in the early tween and teen years. Apps like Facebook and Instagram can be fun, but you need to set down clear rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. Also, please be aware that apps like Snapchat are almost impossible for parents to monitor, since images that are sent disappear almost immediately. It is easy to see how Snapchat has become a primary means of sexting among teens. I would recommend that it be deleted from our children's phones.

Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they go. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent, firm, and loving oversight.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface of this important subject. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play soccer next to the freeway during rush hour. It's absolutely foolish, plain and simple. If ever we needed to be wise and courageous in our parenting, it is now.

Tuned in Parents on the Technological Frontier

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I am a child of the technological frontier--the brave new world of exciting potential and seemingly limitless possibility. I learned how to type on a typewriter; but, how to spell on a Speak&Spell. As a young boy, I played video games on Commodore 64 and Atari. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that Nintendo became a household object. Our family had one small TV with a rabbit ear antenna. We didn't have cable until the mid-90's. I distinctly remember my mom being enamored with Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and that she really didn't like me watching the Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy (which I, incidentally, loved watching). I'll never forget the day that my dad walked us into a computer store to buy our first home computer. I was around 10 or 11. The salesman tried to convince my dad that we would never need more than 256 MB of memory (we had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time, but now realize that he had no idea what he was talking about). Neighborhood friends had boxes full of floppy discs--on which they traded video games with each another. When I was 13, one of those friends showed me pornography for the first time on one of those discs. This brave new world of technology was becoming a frightening new world of evil breaking into our neighborhoods and homes. Now, fast-forward 30 years.

Computers, smart phones, video game consoles, held game systems and just about all other electronic devices give us instant access to everything the world has to offer. Our children will grow up in a world of virtual reality and interactive online communities. There are an estimated 4 million pornographic websites online. That number will only increase. What was once filled with shame and indignity is now celebrated and promoted at an alarming rate. Tragically, more and more children from Christian homes are being drawn to cutter websites and pagan forums--often unknown to their parents. Many are simply being secularized through the influence of their friends online. There is no way to know exactly how quickly things are moving or where it is all heading; but, if our parents were concerned about how to protect us from the worldly influences on the radio, videos, magazines and cable TV, how much more do Christian parents need to be informed, alert and vigilant in seeking to protect our children in this day of technological hyper speed!

I've been considering these things with an ever-increasing sense of urgency and sobriety as my sons near the age at which they become more and more susceptible to the allure of the evil in the world. There are several things to which I return again and again as I seek to counsel myself and other parents in our congregation regarding this issue. Here are four things to which we can commit as we labor to bring our children up in a way that is pleasing to the Lord:

 
  1. We Must Make Every Effort to Protect Our Children from the Unwanted Influences of the World.
  This necessitates that we are tuned into what our children are doing. We need to take an interest in what they are watching and in that with which they are involved online. I'm not suggesting that we suffocate or micromanage their lives. However, it is incumbent for us to protect our children, as much as possible, from the evil influences of the world around them. This does not mean that we will not have our children in the community--playing sports and actively involved in community events--or that they will not be allowed to have friends from unbelieving homes. It will mean, however, that we will closely monitor what they are saying and doing in the community and with those friends. It means teaching them what it means to be a witness to Christ to their unbelieving friends. After all, the Apostle Paul, taught the members of the church in Corinth that there was an expectation that they would have relationships with unbelievers:

  "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  Protecting our children from the unwanted influences of the world will mean using programs like Covenant Eyes on every electronic device on which we can put them in our homes. It might mean locking down their smart phones so that they cannot download apps that will give them unfiltered or unmonitored access to the internet. It does mean that we should know who they are texting and what is being texted. After all, the world can now reach into the lives of our children in their bedrooms in a way in which it could never in all of human history before the invention of the internet and smart phone.

   
  1. We Must Learn to Talk with Our Children about the Dangers That They Face.
  This is crucial. If we don't speak with our children about the wickedness of the world, rest assured that others will. It's vital for us to come to terms with the fact that we must start talking to our children about the evils with which they will be confronted. Recently, I was speaking with someone who has a friend involved with Backyard Bible Club (a Christian outreach to public school children) in a significant Southern town. The individual to whom I was speaking told me that sex was the overwhelming focus of the conversation of the fourth graders being picking up every week. We must now assume that children are being exposed to conversation about sexual matters at a much younger age than was true for many of us. A few months ago, I wrote a post at the Christward Collective that deals with the necessity of teaching our children the raw portions of Scripture. Teaching our children a biblical view of the blessing of sex and the evil of sexuality immorality is one of the best things that we can do for them. Teaching our children, from God's word, about the forms of evil with which they will be face is vital.

 
  1. We Must Remember that We Can't Change the Hearts of our Children.
  No amount of sheltering our children from the evil of the world without will keep them from acting on the evil of their hearts within. We can neither regenerate our child's heart nor bring him or her to a place of spiritual maturity. We must teach our children the Scriptures, pray with and for them, gather with the people of God for weekly public worship and discipline them in love...but you can't secure results. Only the Spirit of God, taking the finished work of Christ and sovereignly applying it to the hearts and minds of our elect children, can do this work in their hearts. The Spirit of God is the only One who can regenerate our children and He is the only one who can bring our children to spiritual growth and maturity.

 
  1. We Must Seek to Model Godly Living and Marriage in the Home and Church for our Children.
  While we recognize that we are powerless to change our children's hearts, we also recognize that the godly example that parents set in the home is one of the ways that the Lord works in the lives of our children. The means of grace that God has appointed in the church for the salvation of His people (i.e. the word, sacraments and prayer) are complemented by the godly example of believers. If our children see us loving our wives and modeling for them what it means to be a Christian family in the home--delighting in Christ together, as well as being deeply committed to Him in weekly worship and service in the Church--we can expect them to want to follow that example. If our sons see us speaking lovingly to and about our wives and showing affection for them (and for them alone!) that will be a powerful example for them to follow. At the end of the day, we want our children to see how different a Christian home is from the world--not in a fundamentalist or separationist sense, but in a Spirit-filled, word-saturated and Gospel-exalting sense. While I wandered from the Christian home in which I was raised, the godly example my parents set in the home was indelibly etched in my mind and heart. It stayed with me through the years of rebellion and wandering, and, has continued to aid me as my wife and I seek to raise our own children. The importance of godly example is something that is not always emphasized in this regard.

     
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Sometimes it's difficult to teach our children the more raw parts in scripture. Pastor Nick Batzig covers this sensitive topic in his latest article at The Christward Collective.  

One of the things that I realized the first time that I taught through the book of Genesis is that the patriarchal narratives look far more like something that you would see on Showtime than something that you would hear on Focus on the Family. Whether it is the record of Cain murdering his brother, the sexual sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham's sin with Hagar, Judah's sin with his prostitute-pretending daughter-in-law, Simeon and Levi's cruel treatment of the men of Shechem, the betrayal of Josephs' brothers or the attempt of Potiphar's wife to lure Joseph into her bed, you don't have to move out of the first book of the Bible to come across what I like to call the "raw parts of Scripture."

As a pastor, I sometimes have parents express concern about that to which their young children are being exposed in church. Whether it is a reference to the Old Covenant sign of circumcision going on the male reproductive organ or some part of a biblical story being discussed in Sunday School--there is no way to avoid exposing our children to the raw portions of Scripture in a biblically faithful church. In fact, I would suggest that we are called to expose them to the reality of these things in the right way. The Bible is far more raw throughout than many of us wish to admit. In the words of Rich Mullins: 

The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.1

In fact, the central message of the Bible is the most raw--namely, the murder of the Son of God, who was torturously beaten, scourged and nailed to a tree by men in order to bleed to death for the raw sins of His people. Surely, we are to teach our children that raw truth from their earliest days!  As we consider this extremely difficult (and widely debated) subject, here are three reasons to teach your kids about the depravity of men as it is revealed in Scripture:

1. God Commands it. The Lord commanded the Israelites to diligently teach all of His word to their children. In Deuteronomy 11:18-21 we read:

Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.

Certainly this command, in the last book of the Law (i.e. Deuteronomy), includes teaching our children those raw portions of the first book of the Law (i.e. Genesis). Additionally, it includes teaching them those extremely specific laws against sexual sin (e.g. Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:6-18; 23; 20:13, 15-16, 17). This does not mean that we need to go into great detail with our very young children. Surely, the better part of wisdom is to teach them the whole counsel by reading through books of the Bible and wait until they ask particular questions about things that they hear. Even though the Bible is raw in its content, there is a measure of discretion in the way in which it speaks about sexual sin. For instance, it uses the euphemism "uncovering the nakedness" as code language for sexual intercourse. It uses the phrase, "He knew her," to describe a husband's sexual intimacy with his wife. Nevertheless, we must come to terms with the fact that God told the Old Covenant church members that they were not allowed to "mate with an animal" (Lev. 18:23). They were to teach their children this as well. 

By never talking about the raw parts of Scripture with our children, we inadvertently suggest that God shouldn't have included it in Scripture. We do not want to fall into the trap of being "more decent" than God. That will only harm our children's faith when they do finally come across these portions of Scripture about which we never had the courage to teach them. When they are faced with these things in the world, they will either not know how to engage sexually perverse unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor. 5:10) or they will be drawn into the perversity of their sin (Lev. 18:24). Ironically, many who think that they are sanctifying their children by not exposing them to the raw portions of Scripture are actually failing to make use of what God has given for our sanctification. God commands us to diligently teach our children the Scripture--including the raw parts--because they are a means to our sanctification (John 17:17) when taught in light of the Gospel. 

2. Culture Necessitates it. A friend and mentor recently said to me, "With the increased accessibility to, and acceptance of, pornography we will see an increase in perverse sexual sin in the church." Sadly--though I don't want it to be--I know that this is true. Far from isolating the Old Covenant church from knowing about gross immorality, the Lord instructed them concerning these things on account of the exposure that they would have to them by virtue of their nearness to pagan nations around them. God told Israel that they needed to avoid these things "for by all these the nations are defiled" (Lev. 18:24). It was precisely because of the actions of those around them that the Lord commanded Israel not to practice these things. So too, in our day--with the culture glorying in sexual immorality--it is incumbent on us to instruct our children about what they are to avoid. Ironically, when parents fail to do so, the result is often the opposite of that which they had intended. Many times, children--who have been isolated from the truth of the depravity in the world and of their own hearts--end up running headlong into the perversion of the world when they reach adulthood. Isolating our children from these things does not change their hearts. Their hearts will only be changed by the truth of the Gospel and the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit to regenerate them. 

Additionally, culture necessitates that we instruct our children for the sake of the defense of the faith. It will severely hurt our effectiveness in witness if we are not conversant with and able to explain the raw portions of Scripture. I have many times been challenged by an unbeliever regarding such things as herem warfare. It is important for us to explain to our children why it was that God commanded Israel to eradicate all the inhabitants (men, women and children) of the Promised Land. Of course, we need to know more than simply that He commanded it--we also need to know why He commanded it, in order to explain it. (Here is my attempt to bring in the importance of the redemptive-historical element). We need to be able to teach our children how to distinguish between the those ceremonial laws in the Old Testament--that were only for Israel until Christ came and fulfilled them in redemptive-history--and the moral laws against sexual sin found in the same books. In his article, "Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency," Tim Keller has done an excellent job of helping us defend our faith in this regard. Our children need to grow up learning about all that God has revealed in Scripture and how to defend the faith in relation to it. 

3. Our Hearts Need It. I sometimes wonder whether those who are overly cautious and overly zealous to protect their children from being exposed to the truth of depravity in the world--as it is revealed in Scripture--are simply not wanting to face up to and confess their own depravity. Allow me to explain. In legalistic, fundamentalist homes, there is often an attempt to isolate from the knowledge of the depravity of world in the name of holiness, while not owning up to the fact that we cannot isolate from the depravity of our own hearts. The self-righteous heart wants to acknowledge depravity "out there"--and insist that contamination merely comes from nurture--rather than pointing the finger "within"--and insisting that depravity is in all of us on account of the sin nature that we have all inherited from Adam. Without doubt, we want to guard our sinful hearts--and the sinful hearts of our children--from an unnecessary contamination of the depravity "without' (by what we perceive to be an overexposure to it)--but we don't do so by not talking about it. We do so by acknowledging that we have the same nature as those who practice such things, and that our God has taught us about the evil of these things so that we may--by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel--avoid them. 

That being said, I do believe that there is a right way to expose our children to these things. There can be an inappropriate crassness with which these things can be presented to children. In some homes, the pendulum swings the other way. Immature parents (and, yes, there are immature parents in any given church) who joke about perverted things can--and most certainly will--do irreparable harm to their children. Additionally--as I have already noted--when the Bible warns against sexually perverse sin, it does so in very specific ways--but it does so with a measure of verbal propriety. Thankfully, there are many other things in the Bible than these raw parts. This means that our children should be getting a healthy diet of all the different parts of Scripture and truths taught in the Scriptures. The raw parts are necessary parts, but they are not the only parts. They should be taught in proportion to the other truths of Scripture. When we are committed to reading through books of the Bible with our children, this will work itself out for us.  

When a pastor is about to preach through a book of the Bible that contains raw parts (e.g. Genesis, Leviticus or Judges), it would be a good thing for him to help prepare the parents for what their children are about to hear. If a minister is about to preach on Judges 19, it might be wise for him to give the parents of young children some notice--not so that the parents will keep the children out of the service that Sunday, but that they would be prepared to talk with their children about these things if their children ask them questions after the service. As a pastor of a congregation with many young children, I personally do not dwell at length on the raw parts of a text; however, I do not, skip over them since I am obligated by God to diligently teach the whole counsel. By giving the parents a "heads-up" regarding an intensely raw portion of Scripture, a pastor is really coming alongside the parents as they instruct their children in the home. 

There is always a spectrum regarding when--as well as to how much or how little--we expose our young children to biblical teaching on sexual sin, violence, etc. I lean to the side of exposing them for the sake of the reasons set out about. Others, however lean to the side of protecting their minds and hearts from what they deem to be unnecessary exposure. I am certainly not insisting that I have it all figured out. There is an inescapable uncomfortableness in talking about these things because of the shame of sin. I am not suggesting that we should have the "Rated-R Children's Story Bible," but I am suggesting that we do our children a disservice by skipping over the raw parts of the Bible in most of our children's story bibles. After all, we do have to ask the question, 'Where's Drunk, Naked Noah on the Sunday School Felt Board?" Teaching our children the raw portions of the Bible--as challenging as it may be--is a necessary part of the sanctification process for them. May God give us wisdom to do so for the good of their souls. 

To read this article online visit The ChristwardCollective.org

1. An excerpt from Rich Mullin's booklet, The World As Best As I Remember It.

Rewarding our Children for Obedience?

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When it comes to parenting, I think there are some general principles that we can draw from the way God the Father treats his children. That is why I am not, in principle, opposed to various types of punishments for our children when they are disobedient. A spanking may be the best, most appropriate way to deal with sin in our young children (Prov. 23:13), but withholding privileges, for example, may also be a suitable punishment.
 
What about promising our children rewards for obedience, with the intention of motivating them to do what we ask?
 
Here I believe we may look at the way in which God rewards his children and appropriately, with great care and wisdom, apply this principle to the way we raise our children.
 
Given the plethora of teaching in the Scripture on rewards for good works (Rev. 22:12; Matt. 16:27; 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 11:26), I'm surprised the topic does not surface more than it does. God rewards our good works (WCF 16.6). Of course, we cannot merit rewards from good works because these good works are graciously given to us to do from eternity (Eph. 2:9-10). And the issue is not whether God rewards our good works, but can rewards for good works motivate us in any way?
 
It may be that some think that promising rewards for obedience leads to a slavish spirit. Anticipating this objection, John Owen acknowledges that some think "to yield holy obedience unto God with respect unto rewards and punishments is servile, and becomes not the free spirit of the children of God."

In response to this objection, Owen asserts that such a reaction is a "vain" imagination. Only the bondage of our spirits can make what we do servile. "But," says Owen, "a due respect unto God's promises and threatenings is a principal part of our liberty." He argues that in the new covenant the hope of rewards, for example, is actually a liberating motive for holiness. 

Those who are made partakers of the covenant of grace, and make use of the means of grace that God has appointed for believers, may find comfort in the fact that they will not fail to perform the obedience required by God "merely for want of power and spiritual strength" (2 Pet. 1:3; Matt. 11:30; 1 John 5:3).

The very fact that God promises rewards to his children will necessarily motivate his children to seek these rewards. How could we be indifferent to such promises? We would be disobedient children if we did not, in some measure, seek that which is so clearly promised in God's word. 

How, then, does this relate to parenting?

Parents, if they are able, naturally want to bless and reward their children. There is always a fine line between good theology and bad theology, and that line is perhaps a lot finer than we'd like to imagine. Some parents may seem to only be able to get their children to obey by either promising the child something if he/she does what is requested or by issuing a harsh threat (e.g., raising their voice even louder). Sometimes the parenting style is nothing more than a perpetual form of bribery, which ends up enslaving not only the parents, but also the children.

Our children need to know that they need to obey simply because this pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20). Even here, there is the motivation to please the Lord. Nonetheless, arriving at the place where they are only prepared to do something if they are promised this or that is a dangerous place to be. 

Yet, that doesn't necessarily mean we cannot motivate our children by sometimes promising them a reward for their obedience. Godly wisdom from the parents will, of course, dictate how often and the nature of the reward; but the principle itself is a way - not the way - to help our children obey. 

Returning to my original point, our Father in heaven has promised to reward us for things done in the body during this life (assuming they meet the requirements for what constitutes a good work). While we need to be careful in this matter, I think parents should, as they are able, learn to reward their children in appropriate ways so that they can teach their children, tangibly, what our Father in heaven is like towards his children. While there are many unconditional promises, there are plenty of conditional ("if you do this then ....") promises (and warnings) made to God's people.

To expect our children always to obey without ever promising a reward may be a case of provoking them to wrath. And here, as earthly parents, we may end up very much unlike our heavenly Father. 

God loves his children and delights to reward them for their imperfect obedience. Should we be any different with our own children?

By virtue of his sin Adam "was banished from that royal palace of which he had been the lord." Yet God did not leave Adam homeless; "he obtained elsewhere" -- somewhere east of Eden -- "a place in which he might dwell."

Adam quickly learned how complicated life in his downgraded digs would be. Everywhere he turned he was confronted with the consequences of his sin: "innumerable miseries;" "temporal exile;" ultimately "death itself." Everywhere he turned he was equally confronted with evidence of God's "paternal love" for him, even in the face of his rebellion, and sustained by reminders of the promise delivered to him and his wife of the "seed" who would one day triumph over the Serpent and thus regain for true believers that "life from which he had fallen."

Calvin discovers a case study in the complexities of life lived between the fall and the consummation -- life lived, that is, with constant reminders of both sin's consequences and God's "paternal love" -- in the meal plan that comes with Adam's new accommodation. Adam was "bereft of his former delicacies," but "he was still supplied with some kind of food." Adam could fill his belly, but nothing tasted quite so good as Eden's fruits had, and he had to eat his food with bandaged fingers (having wrestled with thorns and thistles to secure his meal).

A far more poignant reminder -- or two reminders, as it happens -- of the complexities of life lived between the fall and the consummation presents itself to Adam and Eve in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 4, in the form of twin baby boys. Calvin concludes that Cain and Abel were twins from the fact that Genesis mentions only one act of conjugal relations between Adam and Eve and one subsequent conception (Gen. 4.1), but two births (Gen. 4.1-2). According to Calvin's reasoning, humanity's first naturally born children were actually identical twins, though Calvin wouldn't have had the biological wherewithal to grasp the point. Twins, in Calvin's judgment, were far more common in the early years of humankind's history, "when the world had to be replenished with inhabitants."

"Adam recognized, in the very commencement of having offspring, the truly paternal moderation of God's anger." He recognized, in other words, how good God intended to be his human creatures, even when he had every reason to withdraw his goodness from them entirely. Few human pleasures, to be sure, compare with the birth of healthy babies, or speak so loudly of God's liberality towards us. Newborn babies trigger emotions of love, joy, and responsibility within us that we wouldn't have known we were capable of, and those emotions, most importantly, give us a partial glimpse at least into the "paternal" nature of God's sentiments towards his own image-bearing offspring.

But as every proper parent knows, the birth of children can also trigger emotions of fear and anxiety. The world is full of sinners (not least of all us), and we cannot help, as we hold our newborn children in our arms, but wonder what crimes will be committed against them (or, worse, what crimes they will commit) in however many years God gives them.

Of course, the worst fears of Adam and Eve for their twin boys came true. One son was brutally murdered. The other son committed the brutal murder in question. Adam must have felt both realities in a particularly poignant way, since his own personal decision to violate God's commandment lay at the root of his children's wayward inclinations and the tragic outworking of those inclinations. Adam's sense of horror at the perversity he had unleashed on the world by his defection from God could only have deepened as he lived to witness Cain's great-great-great-grandson Lamech both up the ante on Cain's violence (Gen. 4.23) and "violate the sacred law of marriage ... [and] perpetual order of nature" by committing polygamy (Gen. 4.19).

So "horror-struck" were "our first parents... at the impious slaughter" of their son and the subsequent crimes of Cain's lineage that they "abstained for a while from the conjugal bed." It would seem that Adam and Eve stayed out of "the conjugal bed" for quite a long "while" in fact, since Calvin apparently reads the renewal of relations and conception of Seth (Gen. 4.25) as chronologically subsequent to Lamech's misadventures (Gen. 4.19-24); i.e., Adam and Eve effectively "abstained ... from the conjugal bed" for a succession of five generations. Adam and Eve thus became the first of many human beings to wonder whether it's really a good idea to bring kids into this messed up world.

Calvin offers no insights into what, on his admittedly suspect reading of Adam and Eve's marital relations, eventually incited our first parents to re-ignite the procreative flame. But if we were to adopt his reading and push it even further, we might speculate that Adam and Eve's renewed inclination to have children was driven by the hope that their next named child, Seth, would be exactly who Seth turned out to be -- that is, one who, like his brother Abel before him, "called upon the name of the Lord," which Calvin reads as shorthand for engaging in "the whole worship of God." In Seth, and in Seth's own "rightly constituted family, the face of the Church began distinctly to appear, and that worship of God was set up which might continue to posterity."

Adam and Eve, in other words, overcame their fear of whatever evils their children might encounter or propagate in this life by resting upon God's promise that his ultimate gift, paradise regained, belonged to them and to their children. And in Seth (as in Abel) the highest hope that believing parents can sustain for their child, the hope that their child will himself or herself also believe by virtue of God's own faithfulness and gift, was realized. Adam and Eve eventually recognized that the worst thing about Cain's crime was not the crime itself, but the unbelief that informed his aggression against Abel and marked him as an alien to God's eternal fellowship. They likewise realized that however horrible the loss of Abel had been, Abel was an heir with them of God's eternal promises appropriated through faith; although they were deprived of Abel's company in this life, they would enjoy his company in the life to come forever.

Adam and Eve thus experienced the ultimate joys and sorrows of parenting. But the ultimate joy (the believing child) was joyful enough to lead them to entrust their future children's fortunes to God and fulfill his abiding command to be fruitful (Gen. 1.28). Though they had experienced the ultimate sorrow  (the unbelieving child), Adam and Eve moved forward in faith, confidant that even their tears over Cain and his sin would, in some way presently incomprehensible, be one day wiped from their eyes (Rev. 21.4).

As a footnote, it's worth noting that Calvin himself, when he wrote these comments on Gen. 4, had himself experienced his share of sorrows relative to children. During the nine years of Calvin's marriage to his wife Idelette (who was five years dead when Calvin published his Genesis commentary), none of the several children they conceived survived birth. Calvin knew the unfathomable sorrow which the loss of children can bring. But he, also, I think, knew some significant joy in the midst of the pain that losing children brings. He almost certainly had his own stillborn children in mind when he noted in his Institutes that "God... adopts our infants as his children before they are born." Though deprived of the company and joy of his children in this age, Calvin had every expectation of enjoying the company and joy of his children for eternity in the age to come.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.