I have been meditating on the behaviour of schoolies over this week. Several have been arrested by police over drugs, a parent was caught taking alcohol to her daughter for schoolies celebrations, and schoolies in Bali have embarrassed other Australians by their reckless behaviour. This is of course a common series of events for this time of the year. While this is supposedly normal behaviour from teenagers in 21st century Australia, it is symptomatic of the way in which Australians view the Fatherhood of God.
Rejection of God’s Fatherhood
A psychologist quoted this week, giving advice to parents, said that teenagers to not need parents to be forty year-old friends. Teenagers need parents to parent. The behaviour of many school leavers this week suggests that parents are failing to discipline teenagers and therefore teenagers have no self-discipline as a result. That this behaviour is linked to the rejection of God’s Fatherhood is evident in the epistle to the Hebrews.
“Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).
Here submission to God’s discipline is linked to discipline by earthly fathers. It seems evident that those who have rejected the Fatherhood of God do not actively discipline their own children.
There are many examples to be found of Christian schools and Christian parents who are helping school leavers to serve others instead of running amok during schoolies. However, there is reason to believe that even those within the church do not have a grasp of the reality that God is Father. Thomas Smail brings this home in The Forgotten Father. He suggests that Christians are content to have Jesus as brother, and many are content to experience to things of the Spirit, but without God as Father we do not grow up as disciples. This is because we need fatherly discipline to transform and mature us. I am not saying anything new when I say that much of the church is immature and undisciplined. This would suggest that we do not understand that God is our Father and that we need to be disciplined by him for our own good.
If this is true within the church of God, how much more is this true of those who are outside the church? As a nation we are increasingly rejecting Christ, even in a nominal sense. Even traditional Christian feasts, Easter and Christmas, are completely devoid of Christian meaning. Children are completely ignorant of the existence of Jesus, let alone how he is the centre of Easter and Christmas. There is of course a connection between this ignorance and rejection of Jesus as the rejection of God as Father. “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23b).
Jesus as our rite of passage
Many societies have rites of passages, events or ceremonies which mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. Schoolies week might be considered as a rite of passage in Australia. However, the problem with this as a rite of passage is that the behaviour of teenagers suggests that they perceive adulthood as something which involves all privilege – being allowed to drink alcohol, have sex, and do whatever they please without restraint – rather than seeing adulthood as something which involves increased responsibility. I believe that there is a biblical solution to this problem.
A passage in Galatians suggests to me that Jesus Christ is our rite of passage into full adulthood.
Galatians 4:1 What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
As human beings we were all like children in that we had not attained the rights of adult sonship. Those who are children are not really much different to slaves in that they are subject to rules and guardians, and cannot be given the responsibilities of an adult. The phrase “basic principles” in verse 3 can mean basic elements or ABCs or the simplest things. The “world” is used often, and probably here, as something which is hostile to God. So those who are under the basic principles of the world as those who are caught up in the fundamental, hostile assumptions of the world, which are against God and against all that he does. Those who still embrace these “basic principles of the world” are in slavery. But, because Jesus has come and allowed himself to be subjected to these things for our sakes, he has provided the means for us to become adult sons of God. Adult sons of God are enabled to cry out, “Abba, Father.”
If in the church we do not cry out, “Abba, Father” then this would suggest that we have not grasped the idea that Jesus is our rite of passage into adulthood. The fact that much that Christians do is no different to what the world does says that we are still living like those who are enslaved to the basic principles of the world. Since we do not see that God is our Father, it is difficult to accept his Fatherly discipline. Without knowledge of God as Father, a Father who has our maturity in sight, we will constantly flail under discipline and be perplexed when suffering comes into life. Children do not want to undergo discipline, but mature adults know that this is absolutely necessary.
Since our nation has rejected Jesus as having any significance to life, it has rejected God as Father. One of the results of this rejection is the present climate of parental laxity, as parents do not parent. If the church is to challenge and change this spiritual climate in Australia, we must come to know God as Father and accept his discipline for our maturing. This is part of the proclamation of the true gospel.