Physical Obediance

“Obediance” is one of the hardest words to grasp, or use. A million people hear in it a million different nuances, according to their own childhood experience. In God’s universe obediance is always positive, a blessing. Most people do not have a positive experience of obediance in their childhood, and the only thing they have now is relationships like employee-employer, which are not even designed to be suffused with servant love, like God designs all His hierarchies. Parents may think they are “o.k.” with the word obediance if they do not now actively hate the word, but “positive” is not just the absence of negative. It means the experience of warm and brilliant blessing.

Because this is what the word means, if you have not experienced obediance as an ecstasy-inducing phenomenon, you have never experienced obediance as God uses the word. (It’s the first and most difficult admission; if you have not experienced God’s definition of a word you do not really know what it means.)

We have really two audiences among parents for the word “obediance”: those who take it lightly, or not at all, and those who think their role is bigger than it is.  The first type of parent needs to grasp the word and be urged on; the second needs to grasp the word and be reined in.   Most secular parents are the first type; the more conservative and religious you are, the more likely you are to be the second.  Both groups are actively harming their children.



In God’s universe we are more full persons after obeying than before. Our world, in contrast, has been colored with the satanic tinge which sees the obey-er as smaller than the giver of the word. This entire assumption, that the point of obediance is for the one who speaks to get something done and the one who follows is a functionary — this is all a satanic sepia version of God’s technicolor word “obediance”.

In God’s universe the moment of obediance is a metaphysical sharing of personhoods. The one who responds instantly grows into the image of the giver of the word. This implies that the obediant response therefore requires high activity, not passivity. So obediance is not mere compliance from the physical shell, like a zombie. When full-grown it is full hearted and trusting and actively engages the mind.

But as human parents we do not start there. Unlike God, we are parents of the body before we are parents of the heart. Obediance, at first, does not mean at all that the child think, feel, or adopt attitudes as we dictate. It means that he do what we say. The first episodes of human life are physical, so the foundations are all physical, and most parents do not grasp this — least of all Christian parents, who are infected with the notion that the body is a way station on the way to something “spiritual”.


No, the the foundational moments of the child’s experience of the parents — after physical security — must be physical obediance.  Lots of parents get all caught up in other more complex issues when they never got this one right.  And trying to impose a second-grade lesson in the absence of a first-grade foundation is not only frustrating for both parties, it is actively harmful to the student.

When obediance is first,  the inner life of the child is not neurotic. Evangelical Christian parents have a tendency to focus on the “heart”, the attitudes, or the thoughts, even while they are failing to get the child’s body to obey. This produces neurotic, guilt-ridden, or hostile children. Parents should, in fact, stay completely out of the heart because it is the Holy Spirit’s territory. Just get the hands and feet to do right, and the heart will follow. This is actually good news to the exhausted parent. Mothers especially, at the end of a long day, can be overwhelmed by so many issues they have seen in the child that day. He doesn’t talk with respect, his attitude is sour, and so. Often mom just needs to focus on telling him what to do, and see that he do it.

If the child is allowed to physically disregard the words of the parents, his psyche may never be calm enough to apprehend deeper lessons. In the same way that a vine with no pruning will grow unruly and unkempt, the attentive faculty of a child will grow chaotic if the external structure of physical obediance is lacking.

To a great degree this is circular; you have to have got it before you can get it. A parent who never really internalized obediance will never grasp the effects of it in the inner life of the child.





If it is more complex than this it is oppression.



God’s standard for us is our standard for our children: full obedience, literal obedience, joyful obedience, every single time. Whether or not this level of performance ever enters the observable universe, it is the truth.


God considers disobedient children (and adults) worthy of death, and describes rebellion as “witchcraft”. This attitude was never repealed, nor has God “evolved” His way to a less stringent standard — as if maybe He was anal before, but now He is cool? We don’t kill disobediant children of course, nor do we have the authority or right to make every infraction high drama, but we can never “get” obediance until we “get” that the Old Testament God is the actual God. Not a primitive precursor.

The arrival of forgiveness by the vicarious death of Christ does not at all indicate that God has become any easier to get along with than He was in the garden, or when He fired Moses over one slight imprecision. He has not changed; He simply took on Himself all the death He required. The Christian parent, then has no theological basis for being any easier on sin than does the Old Testament parent.



Of course, there are degrees of disobedience, and there are pragmatic decisions to make in parenting, but there is a difference between deciding what battle you are going to fight today and deciding that some disobediances don’t matter because they are normal. True, some disobediances are not today’s main emphasis, but none are dismissable.


Disobediance is NEVER cute. It only looks cute to the adult who does not see what it is the seed of. Notice that strangers seldom see disobediance in a child as cute, but parents often do.



Inattention to obedience at 4 is what produces an adolescent crisis at 14, as the parents reap what they sowed.



When we talk so uncompromisingly about obediance we run the risk of playing into the hands of selfish parents who use obediance to feed their own self-centeredness. You must insist on obediance, but it is not for your convenience.

Obediance is not FOR the parents, it is FOR the child: children cannot rest if they have an environment where they can disobey. So the goal of all this strictness is the child’s rest, not peace and quiet in the home. One is the direct object, the other is an indirect benefit.

Never, then, create an issue of obediance out of your personal need. Never ask your child to go to the kitchen and get you a drink, and then make it an issue of obediance if he does not want to. Get off your rear and go get it yourself. He is your son, not your slave. Even young toddlers can tell, deep in their hearts, whether their parents use their power for self-serving ends and if you do, he will someday resent you for it. He may not know why and may spend a fortune in therapy to figure it all out.



We also run the risk of siding with the million fundamentalist, legalistic families who see the importance of obediance but see nothing of what the point of it is.  Obeying God is for becoming friends with him.  It has nothing to do with Him sustaining His dignity at the top of the chain of being.  He has that, whether you obey or not.

So, we start with physical obediance so we can get beyond it.  The point of it all is to be friends with the child.  Parents who want to be cool skip the obediance in order to be friends with their child, because they were never cool enough in high school, or never had a cool friend.  The opposite parent never gets beyond obediance…neither is what I am talking about.


Teenage rebellion, of any degree, is not Biblically normal and is simply a product of our universally bad parenting and the subsequent cultural baptism of the pattern.


Teenage rebellion has two equal but opposite possible parental sources: 1. too much laxity (10 years earlier) 2. too much law (that is, emphasizing law over building relationships). Secular parents tend toward the first, religious parents tend the latter.






Adopt the language: “obey”, “obedience” are not embarrassments. It is amazing how few parents even use the words. This often flows from the parents’ intuition of their own sinfulness and the false humility that follows. If I am so bad at obeying God, how can I insist my child obey me? Answer: you must, because you love your child.


Accdept the significance and morality of physical coercion. But think of it in terms of athletic discipline, not in terms of punishment.


The first stage is moving the child’s body for him. Don’t underestimate the importance of this in ages 0-3. You establish the law that the child’s body must do what you tell it to do. If you fail this, you are in trouble. Persistence at this stage will obviate much emotional energy and frustration later.

It is easy to read this and misunderstand it. The purpose of moving the child’s body is not pain, nor punishment, nor to scare him, nor to induce any state in him at all except the inner peace of the habit that when the parent directs, he acts. The very young child will move into this calm with little struggle if he has never had the chance to form the knowledge that disobediance is an option.

We are NOT talking here about breaking the child’s will, nor of training him to be a passive conformist. We want him to have a strong, even herculean will, and we want him to be a fearless leader. None of this is even about those things, and those who think that making your 2 year old child obey will somehow make him weaker as an adult — this person has so little insight into how the soul actually develops as to be almost beyond hope. In fact, the child who must choose to obey will have a more disciplined will because of it. It is no accident that our culture fears coercing children and wonders why so many children are so weak-willed they can’t pay attention for 5 minutes. An attention-deficit is nothing other than a weak will.





The distinction between discipline and punishment is critical. Discipline is when you coerce physical obedience; punishment is when you impose the law of reaping after the fact. The moral content, the explanations, the emotional content, the pain levels — all these things are different in the two cases.


The tone of discipline is peace. You are trying to SPARE THE CHILD THE REAPING OF DISOBEDIANCE AND THE PAIN OF PUNISHMENT. YOU ARE HELPING HIM. Think of a calm but assertive energy. If it progresses to yelling, you lost. Calmness goes with authority.


Spanking is obviously a Biblical practice, but the criticisms of it in our public debate have merit, only because we are so bad at it. And the truth is that many religious parents spank too much and therefore are cruel. Spanking implies an entire theology of pain, and it must be practiced within that body of theory, or it is not done well.


Often we fail to discipline peacefully because we are parenting out of our “nerves”. When we do this, we have lost touch with the pure love for the child. We need parented in that area. In every area where God has dealt successfully with your carnal nature, you will not experience frayed nerves.



In Public: Practicalities often mean you must get him later, but…learn the Vulcan death grip. A little pressure on the back of the neck is enough to say to the toddler “pay attention to me and make your body do what I am saying.” Again, calmly, and only enough pain to get the action which matches your words.


Punishment: we cannot punish correctly without a close study of the Last Judgement, which is the moral model for delayed wrath. We can only touch on it here. The critical thing the child must feel is that wrath can be stored up for the future. The secular mind cannot go to this thought. The closest it can come is “karma”.

Problem: when young, he won’t remember later what you are talking about. This is why he should just be physically moved at a young age.



Consistency is not just a practical necessity in the psychology of the child, but a moral obligation to the child. The biggest enemy of consistency is parental fatigue. Disobediance accepted is often from parental laziness.



Speaking twice is disobedience. A child who must be told twice has a character flaw; the parent who is not grieved by needing to speak twice has the same flaw. See “Speaking like a father”. When we speak twice, we erode the child’s future ability to hear the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.



Don’t discipline with the Word of God. It makes God the bad guy. We don’t tell children “don’t lie because God doesn’t like it.” Tell children “don’t lie because your friends won’t trust you.” All moral laws have a relational base; teach the relational base.


In the beginning, the source of the law is the parents. Theological explanations can come later, but won’t be necessary if you are fair and consistent.

No pre-pubescent child can refuse to obey. You outweigh him.

This standard is not hard if you start at birth. It may be impossible if you start after school age. It is cruel to both sides to start after puberty. The reason most parents scoff at all this is that they are imagining doing it with their already partially formed child. I can’t imagine starting to expect obediance only after the child is, say, 4 or 5.



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