Myth busting 9: right away, all the way, with a happy heart – or it’s rebellion!

Part II: Is Disobedience to Parents Rebellion?

To obey is better than sacrifice…for rebellion is as the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry (1 Sam 15:22-23 NIV)

This is a tricky question. After all, we have all known (and many of us have been) ‘rebellious teenagers’. There is no question that rebellion against parents, against upbringing, against traditions all exist. And rebellion is clearly an important issue. None of us want our children to grow up in a sin ‘like divination or idolatry’. But I want to contend that childish disobedience and even teenage ‘rebellion’ is a different phenomenon from rebellion as depicted in the Bible, as in the famous passage quoted above, when God rejected Saul as King of Israel.

Some important differences:

  • Saul was an adult. He had the advantage of at least 20 years (he couldn’t have been in the army if he was any younger) of instruction in Godly living and had reached an age of accountability for his own actions. Our children are given to us immature. They deserve to be given all the time that God has allotted (at least) to grow to the full maturity of acknowledging God’s wisdom.
  • Saul was King of Israel. He represented all Israel before God. His disobedience to God was a bad example to the whole nation. Also, his actions had repercussions far beyond the present, as his omniscient God well knew. Haman, the villain of the story of Esther, appears to have been the descendent of Amalekites who were not killed that day, possibly of King Agag himself, as he is called ‘Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews’ (Est 3:10). God saw all this, and Saul had shown by his rebellious actions and heart that he was not fit to be King of God’s chosen people.
  • Saul’s rebellion was against God. A search on Blue Letter Bible for the word ‘rebellion’ in the KJV and NIV shows that the KJV only uses the word half a dozen times, and the NIV 42 times. What I found most notable in the list of verses, it that ‘rebellion’ is never used about children and parents, or about tribes and their elders, or Christians and their leaders. In the KJV, the term ‘rebellion’ is only used with reference to God. The NIV also uses it in relation to politics, ie Israel in rebellion against the House of David, the city of Jerusalem in rebellion against nations who try to oppress it, Barabbas taking part in a rebellion. Rebellion in the Bible happens on a big scale, against governments and against God. To apply this serious label to a child’s disobedience, or a teen’s assertion of individuality, is, I think, flippant.

I’m not saying that parents should not address our children’s disobedience. What I am saying is that when they don’t obey us it is not a sign of a deep spiritual problem. We do not need to address it as rebellion.

Edited to add: When responding to Katerine’s comment below, I realised ad made made a mistake. I searched ‘rebellion’ but not ‘rebellious’ and so missed the matter in Deuteronomy of a rebellious son:

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders … They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” (Deut 21:18-20)

So it is possible to have rebellion on the village scale, so to speak. I was wrong. I apologise for my laziness.

However, I feel that these verses back up my more fundamental point, that subadults cannot be said to rebel. Firstly because the son in the passage is clearly an adult son, to be a glutton and a drunkard. Secondly because it is not until he reaches this level of deep depravity that he is called a rebel. He will have been given many opportunities to change his ways before his parents will ask the town to stone him! Our children’s temporary disobediences do not fall into the same category. It is also important to note that according to the Talmud, no one was ever stoned for rebellion. If an adult cannot be convicted of rebellion, can we really accuse our children of this offense?


About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 10. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
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6 Responses to Myth busting 9: right away, all the way, with a happy heart – or it’s rebellion!

  1. Pingback: Myth busting 9: Right away, all the way, with a happy heart – or it’s rebellion! | Dare to Disciple

  2. Katherine says:

    “Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”. That, to me, sounds like if the child is not honouring their parent(s), they are disobeyed God’s commandment which is, indeed a sign of a deep.spiritual problem called sin and also a rebellion against not only their parents, but against God.

    • Claire says:

      That’s an important point, Katherine, thank you for raising it 🙂
      Firstly, I believe the commandment to honour our parents is addressed to *adult children*. Deuteronomy makes this clear when discussing the punishment for rebellious children. “[The parents] shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” (Deut 21:20) That’s an adult son. There is nowhere in God’s law an indication of what should be done with a rebellious minor. God’s commands are addressed to adults. As parents, it is our job to help our children grow *toward* maturity in God’s ways – but not to accuse them of having stubborn, rebellious hearts when, through immaturity, they do not always succeed. That is why I said it is important to address disobedience in our children. But we need to address it in a way that demonstrates God’s grace, not condemnation and shame.
      Secondly, I was a bit unclear in my wording. I did not mean to imply that children are not affected by sin. The solution to sin, of course, is Christ. We parents can do two things: Point our children to Christ, and pray – that their hearts will remain soft towards God, and that we will have the wisdom not to exasperate them (Eph 6:4).
      God bless

  3. Michael J. Homan says:

    I apologize in advance for coming off against any religious beliefs as stated here on this site. But I see things in a different light after many years. As for rebelion… teens, sometimes rightly want to break the cycle of their parents conditioning. Another part is their coming of age, as for trying to find their self as an individual. This goes against most religious teachings. As for what I think I understand, religious people are to comply with their religious laws and beliefs as taught and learned as they see them, whether that is through their own understanding or from their preacher/preist. There are many chemical changes going on in teens, plus peer pressure at school, and a feeling of identity. But as for most religious teachings, for one that of Lucifer and his pride, people are taught not to act on their own. While children need direction and taught morals, a teenager is coming up on being an adult. Because religious people are taught to obey certain people, as for their God, their parents, their school teachers, and basically anyone else above them through title, position, or age, etc. they feel a need to want to think and do for themselves, which I feel is part of life and learning. Religion sometimes goes against our natural instincts. All i am saying is, it is not all that cut and dry. People are nut made from a cookie cutter, they are not clones unless we wise them to be. If we are made to listen to others too much, we lose our ability to make our own good choices… we lead a life of alway looking to others for the answers, when we should be learning them ourselves. This causes a dependency on others that can out live the teenage years. As an example, a preacher may be a good guide as is the bible, but at some point, the points should be clear, and then the individual goes off on their own to do their own. Too many people become weak and unproductive by relying on books and other people too much.

    • Claire says:

      Hi Mike, thank you for your comment and sorry it’s taken me so long to approve it :).
      I agree that often in religious circles conformity is over-emphasised. I believe that the instinct in teenagers to become their own person is put there by God, part of the wonderful development that he designed. Unfortunately, sometimes Christian parents read the Biblical instructions to honour and obey parents and we interpret them as if God had made us (the parents) drill sergeants in the army. Sometimes we make the mistake of viewing the legitimate growth of our child’s God-given nature as rebellion against us. Sometimes we hope that they will go through life without making any mistakes – forgetting that mistakes are a God-given way to learn. Instead, I try (try!) to remember that I am a fellow-sinner saved by God’s grace, that we are all imperfect and it is my role to help my children reach maturity. And you are right when you say that blind obedience, even to the Bible, is immature. I hope to help my children to learn to figure out what God is saying to them – through the Bible, other people, and their own common sense and individual desires.
      It is unfortunate that a number of Christian parenting ‘gurus’ encourage parents to view children’s normal development from a very young age as ‘defiance’ or ‘rebellion’ (eg a baby spitting at its mother, or dropping food on the floor!). Imagine how much trouble parents who have been conditioned to think this way from their child’s infancy will cope when they have a teen! Maturity cannot be hurried, we all need to go through the same God-designed developmental process, and there will be times when that process is inconvenient to the parent – but God as given us to our children to help them through it.
      I hope you are not offended when I say: God bless you!
      Thanks again, Claire

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