Discipline with Love
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Genesis 3:21
Last week, my wife and son conspired to surprise me, flying him home for the week. He’s been gone all summer, counseling at a camp in Virginia, and so, it was fantastic to have him home all week. As we talked about his experience trying to maintain order as a counselor to eight to twelve-year-old boys, I had to smile, remembering my own counseling experience 30 plus years ago. It’s not easy being parent-for-a-week to ten boisterous little boys. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.
A counselor must impose some form of order and discipline, but young boys are not easily corralled. They’re like ping pong balls in a tornado – unpredictable, erratic, and perpetually moving – while talking non-stop. In this chaos, it’s sometimes difficult not to get angry. I remember once yelling at a couple of my young campers until they cried. They’d refused to listen to me all week and finally, on the last day, I lost it, allowing their bad behavior to cause me to behave badly. Discipline with love is hard to get right. Frankly, it’s far easier to discipline from a place of anger. The problem of course, is that our anger hurts us, injures others, and damages our relationships with them. Those crying campers of mine did not go home with a good memory of their Christian camp counselor.
In today’s passage, we see the first example in the Bible of a loving father, perfectly balancing love and discipline. In the story, Adam and Eve had just been exiled from the Garden of Eden. They’d deliberately disobeyed a direct command from God and the sentence was harsh. God, according to his justice, didn’t simply let them off the hook. They had to face the consequences of their actions. But then, in his love, he clothed them, providing protection from the harsh world into which he sent them. Previously, when they realized they were naked, Adam and Eve attempted to cover themselves with fragile fig leaves. Now though, in the first sacrifice for sins, God took the lives of animals, using those hides to cover Adam and Eve. This was the first foreshadowing of Christ, who would one day die to cover our sins.
Discipline with love is hard to get right. God though, repeatedly provides examples of this balance. In his justice, he allows us to suffer the consequences of our sin. In his love though, he sent Christ to save us from ourselves. God doesn’t dismiss consequences, but neither does he abandon us in his wrath. As a perfect father, he perfectly balances discipline with love.