In Part 1 of this series, the conceptions we have of God were compared to Domestic Discipline, a marriage that requires the wife be spanked by her husband when an infraction is committed in the marriage relationship. Many times, it is the wife who wants this kind of marriage, so we asked why? The answer came back – the brokenness of infantilism.
Theologically, infantilism is the fascination with and desire for immaturity. It seeks out external forces to enforce one’s moral behavior and the comfort of being parented well past the parenting era. It manifests primarily in a hierarchy that requires punishment, and doesn’t allow our relationship with any member of the Trinity to be a partnership or a brotherhood – two concepts present in Scripture. The conception that many Christians have of the Trinity is that they are most concerned with our sin and the process of fixing it. Redemption is at the top of their list. This ends up entrenching people into an infantilizing pattern that doesn’t allow them to actually grow up and embrace wisdom. Think about it, how many songs sung on a Sunday morning are incensed with the badness of our sin and the saving power of the cross to solve that problem without ever moving on to the many other dimensions of the gospel? Why is penal (another word for penalty) substitution the most prevalent theory of the atonement when there are other substantive theories that cover how God saves? Why is it so hard to conceive of a relationship with God that doesn’t elevate the penal/punishment aspect of that relationship? Hebrews 6:1-3 lays it out succinctly.
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
Wisdom is the goal of any process of transformation yet many times, sin management and behavioral modification principles end up being the way forward for many Christians. For those who seek to move beyond sin management, but can’t give up a God who infantilizes humanity, they focus on extolling the greatness of God and his glory (transcendent). On the other “hand,” to experience God as near to us (imminent), he has to be forensically focused, ready to punish at a moment’s notice, as some parents do with troublesome children. The only other option is the opposite extreme – to experience God as distant from us (transcendent) – to aggrandize him through talk of glory, magnificence, etc. We don’t like the in-between.
Living at these extremes and not exploring the tension between them results in infantilism, the arrested development of our spiritual growth.
This continues an unnecessary stiff-armed approach to imbibing wisdom and leaves the worshipper in a constant state of fear as to whether or not they have “offended” their deity with their sin. Or as long as the deity is exalted and worshipped as great and glorious, the deity is distant and un-offendable, or there is a confusing combination of both which leaves many Christians anxiety-ridden and left with a God who should be diagnosed as bi-polar.
These postures may seem respectful and prudent, but they are done at the expense of actually imbibing the life of God as wisdom into our very beings. We are not divine as Christ himself was, but we can become wise and the goal of transformation is wisdom, not obedience or distant worship of a great and glorious being. Obedience is an aspect of our response to God, but it should evolve into self-discipline, wisdom and human flourishing.
In these stories of DD, many times it is the woman in the relationship who wants to be disciplined by their husbands, and at times, is the initiator of this approach to the marriage. Why would that be the case? Well, for Christians, we can actually stave off the constant sense we feel of God’s absence when we can, in its place, sense God’s fearful and wrathful punishment. Something is better than nothing right?
I think we all, to one degree or another, experience a desire for external reinforcement. We want someone else to achieve for us what we need to achieve ourselves, regardless of its demeaning effect upon us. Just think of the many individuals who join the armed forces for this very reason. This isn’t to suggest that serving in the military is immature, but one of the many reasons people join is to get some “discipline” into their lives – that they can’t get themselves. It’s also why so many find it difficult to leave military careers, along with those who don’t ever leave university, the umbrella of their parents’ home, immature coping mechanisms, regaling high school sports achievements, etc.
Left to ourselves at times, growing up can make us feel a little lost…or a lot lost. There’s nothing wrong with external motivation and discipline, but when it becomes the primary way we relate to the world and to God, our development is arrested. We become self-infantilized.
So what to do? The goal of the human experience is to mature into wisdom and to imbibe the life of God into every part of our existence. Our unique contribution to the world, though marked by us, is also undoubtedly marked by the character of God as he moves in us – and when the two become indistinguishable, we’ve matured. Eventually, what we want and what God wants does become one, and hopefully, no one can tell the difference.
In this outcome, external discipline evolves into an internal harmony with God and we move with the grain of his good universe. Sadly, the problem persists – as the “bride of Christ,” we maintain a fascination with infantilism and need, rather, like, a good spanking once in awhile. We can be as brainwashed in our theology as these wives are in their marriages.
So, before we castigate these marriages for choosing to practice Domestic Discipline, what kind of relationship are we expecting others and ourselves to experience with God and Christ? Could it be that we also are seeking a Domestic Discipline approach to our understanding of who God is and how the Trinity relates to us? Could it be that our theology is marked by punishment because we want it, rather than God wanting it? Sadly, I think the answer is yes more often than not. And while there may be only thousands practicing DD in their homes, it may be that there are hundreds of thousands, or more, practicing it in their churches.