Article of Faith

December 4, 2022

Learning obedience

Learning obedience

By Femi Aribisala

Have you ever been in a situation in which you told a child to do something, and he asks you why? “Why?” is one of the favourite questions of children. You tell a child to do something, and he asks: “why?” If you give him the reason, he will ask you “why?” again.

In effect, what is the reason why you gave the reason you gave? For every answer you give, he might just continue asking you “why?” until you become fed up, refuse to answer him, or ask in turn: “why not?”

“Freddie you must brush your teeth first thing in the morning and last thing before you go to bed.” And Freddie asks: “why?” “Why must I brush my teeth?” What do you do in such a situation? Do you explain to him why he must brush his teeth? Or do you simply tell Freddie: “Because I say so?”

Often, the two become combined: 

“Freddie, you must brush your teeth first thing in the morning.”

“Why?”

“Because if you do not brush your teeth your mouth will smell, and your teeth will decay.”

“Why?”

“Because the bacteria in your mouth will attack your teeth and they will develop cavities and you will end up at the dentist.”

“Why?”

“Because the bacteria will eat away at your teeth, expose the nerve cells and you will feel a lot of pain.”

“Why?”

“Because I say so.”

No reason

Sometimes, the only way to stop the “why?” “why?” “why?” is by insisting right from the beginning that the reason why Freddie must brush his teeth is that you say so. But some parents are concerned that this approach would make their children ignorant. We feel if we do not give them the reasons behind our instructions and make them understand why they should obey us, we become dictators and not good parents.

However, the good parent gives no reason whatsoever to his child beyond saying: “I want you to do what I say because I say so.” There is a big difference between a discussion on the principles of hygiene and instructions concerning hygiene. The two must not be confused.

When it is a discussion, we can tolerate as many questions as possible. And even there we are likely to be soon fed up. But if we are instructing our child about what to do, we should not entertain any queries. We should just tell him what we want him to do.

If we entertain no queries, we are training him to be a man under authority. But if we have to explain to him the reason why he should obey us, then we are training him to be disobedient. A child should obey his parents and not his parents’ reasons or logic. A child should be trained to be subject to authority.

Under authority

Can you imagine a boss asking a subordinate to photocopy some documents and he asks why? He would not do the photocopies until the boss can convince him as to why he should do them. If that is the case, he is likely to be soon looking for another job.

As a child, I hated it when my parents answered my many questions with “because I say so.” As far as I was concerned, it meant that they did not have a valid reason for telling me to do something. And because they did not have a valid reason for instructing me; that meant I did not have a valid reason for obeying them.

This approach is dangerous for several reasons. It presupposes we can understand the reason why we should do as we are told, and this is rarely the case. Often, we do not even understand the consequences of our actions.

The parent tells the child not to put his hand in the fire. The child wants to know why. The parent tells the child the fire would burn him. But the child does not know what it means to be burnt. And the parent wants the child to be ignorant. He does not want the child to know what it means to be burnt.

To know what it means to be burnt, you have to be burnt. But the parent does not want the child to be burnt. So, he tells him quite simply: “Do not put your hand in the fire.” But the child wants to know why he should avoid being burnt. “Just take my word for it; you won’t like it.”

Now it becomes a question of trust. That is why it is impossible to please God without having faith in Him. (Hebrews 11:6).

Obeying God

That we know the reason we should not fornicate does not ensure that we will not. That we know the reason we should not touch the electrical wire does not mean we will not touch it. We may not be able to control ourselves or overcome the urge to do so. If we are a slave of our desires, knowing the reason we should not succumb to them makes no difference. We can only obey the law by the special grace and power of God.

“Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20).

The righteousness of God is the righteousness of faith and not of reason. (Romans 1:17). It comes through trusting God and taking Him at His word. This faith in God works through love. If we love God, we will obey His commandments, even if they make little sense. We obey His commandments because we love Him and would like to please Him.

This is what Jesus means when He says we must receive the kingdom of God as a little child:

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Ultimately, there is only so much that a child can understand. He is required to trust his parents knowing that they love him and want what is best for him. If a child were to wait until he understands his parents’ directives before obeying them, he would not be able to obey them until he is an adult.

At three, little John asked his parents for a jerry can of petrol. His father refused to give it to him. But on his twenty-first birthday, the father gave him a Jerry can of petrol. John wondered what he was supposed to do with it.

His father replied: “You asked me for this when you were three years old. I did not give it to you then because I knew it would be unsafe to do so. But now I know you are old enough to handle petrol with care.”

The insistence on knowing the reason before obeying ensures that we become limited by knowledge. But the revelation of scripture shows that what men call knowledge is actually ignorance.