Introducing a Culture of Life
Childhood, a most precious time of life! It is a time that moves from the magical days of curiosity and discovery to creative adventures that can take a child to medieval castles, carried on the wings of his imagination. It is an active time when children imitate what they see at home, sometimes to our good pleasure, when their actions are virtuous, and sometimes with a bit of misguided confidence, when they step beyond the boundaries of their understanding. In the preschool and early school years, children learn basic rules of social order, how to share and get along with others. It is also a time when little hearts are ready to absorb spiritual lessons from loved ones they trust, and, in time, turn those lessons into a way of life.
We are of the belief that parents, by intent or by neglect, for better or worse, are still the greatest influence when it comes to shaping a child’s life. Unless they voluntarily give it up, or choose to surrender portions of their influence, nothing is more persuasive and long lasting as the impressions gained or lost within the context of the home. What is important to Mom and Dad, or what is of little importance, are often the values children adopt. That means, parenting outcomes are more often reflective of adult priorities than any other factor of growth.
That conclusion begs the following question: Are there any universal priorities that can help promote noble and virtuous outcomes for each generation, regardless of the consistent decline or shift in cultural values? We believe the answer is, “Yes.” We also believe that whenever there is a consistency of parenting priorities, there will be a consistency of outcomes—favorable or unfavorable, depending on those priorities.
What do priorities and values look like in your home? How will they translate into parenting strategies for your children? We admit, parenting today is not without its share of challenges. We live in an age of uncertainty, fostered by a culture of relative values, where vice is celebrated on par with virtue. It is difficult for parents to escape the declining culture. Network television offers little support for all things virtuous, and public education is not a safe moral haven for children. However, in spite of all the downward trends, none of these social/cultural forces can overtake “pro-life” priorities tethered to the heart of a Mom and Dad.
We often hear or use the phrase “pro-life” in the social-cultural context of the unborn child. However, being “pro-life” within the Growing Families community, has always carried a broader meaning. The concept represents a lifestyle based on the belief that God originally intended man to only know the goodness of His life, and interact with a culture of virtue consistent with His personhood. The Apostle Paul bears witness to this in Roman 16:19b when he states: “I would have you wise in what is good, [virtuous] and simple concerning evil” [vice], (NKJV). The word “simple” means to be ignorant of, as in not familiar by way of experience. The admonition here is fairly straightforward: Interact with all that is good and virtuous, and avoid interacting with forms of evil that are personal, and destructive to the inner man.
With that admonition serving as our guiding premise, we now put before the reader our primary objective for this lesson. Our goal is to motivate those in our sphere of influence to accept stewardship responsibility that will help ensure the protection, preservation, and propagation of the sacred “truth” that nothing in the universe is more powerful than the creative power surrounding and sustaining life itself.
For those committed to a God-centered ideal, no truth carries greater value than the declarative phrase, “In the beginning, God created,” (Genesis 1:1a). Life exists because God exists, for He is the source of all life. Yet, while life is everywhere, so also is the influence of death. Here, we are not speaking of the physical death that comes at the end of life, but rather the prevailing influence flowing out from a culture of death that permeates the world’s system of thought. The sounds and images of death are all around us. They saturates the air-waves—we read of it in media print, hear about it in our schools and around our neighborhood, and sometimes it even takes up residence in our churches.
The fact is, this life versus death tension has been around from the beginning. It is a contrast theme in both the Old and New Testament. Today, the only thing that has changed is our awareness of how this life and death construct profoundly influences parenting.
In the Beginning
The word, “genesis,” means “origin,” or “coming into existence.” For the Christian, the Book of Genesis contains a host of foundational truths that speak to the character of God and His creation. One of the first truths revealed relates to the substance of creation. God claimed authorship and authority over all of it—everything in the universe that man knows and the things yet to be discovered. He created space, time, energy, material substance, and “information” the latter of which all creatures depend on for their existence.
The second truth is tied to the character of God’s creation—He declared creation to be good. One cannot read the creation story without noticing the constant refrain, “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). The “good” in this case speaks to the virtuous quality and the functionality of His creation. It all fit together in harmony and worked according to design. On the sixth day God gave His final assessment declaring: “. . . behold, it [is] very good” (Genesis 1:31). God created a universe of all goodness—a universe that reflected His character, majesty, and personhood.
The story of creation continues. From Genesis 2:8-9, we learn of a garden where God placed Adam, the first man. “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In verses 16-17, we read: “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Here God reveals man’s moral capacity. Adam was given the ability to choose—to knowingly and willingly affirm or forsake the directive of God. Both he and Eve had the capacity to eat of any tree in the garden, but they did not have the freedom to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, man was granted the ability to affirm God’s prohibition by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also the moral ability to turn away from God’s command, by eating from the tree.
Yet, there lingers the age-old question as to why God placed the temptation of the forbidden fruit in front of man in the first place. Might it have something to do with God’s desire for reciprocal love—a love that is not compelled, and cannot be coerced, but offered freely? We are persuaded by this account that one of the greatest acts of love demonstrated at the point of human creation, came when God voluntarily denied Himself coercive control over mankind, by giving him the ability to say, “Yes,” or “No,” to His will. If God must coerce man to love and obey Him, consequentially, pure reciprocal love loses its value. We love not because we are compelled irresistibly, but because we are compelled by the sufficiency of the Gospel message. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil provided Adam and Eve a constant reminder of their free will to choose God—or not.
The Intrusion of Deception
The story of creation continues with an encounter between the woman and the serpent. At some point in time, the great deceiver convinced Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, assuring her that she would not die, but that her eyes would be opened, and she would become like God, able to make judgments as to what is good and what is evil (Genesis 3:1-4).
Consider the role of the serpent. How did a creature, who opposed God’s authority and sought to undermine it by tempting Eve, end up in the Garden of Eden in the first place?
Genesis 3:1 suggests that before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, a war had taken place somewhere in God’s universe, perhaps sometime between the close of Genesis 2:25 (Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame) and Genesis 3:1 (The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that Lord God had made). We do not know the span of time between these two events (days, months or years), but we can surmise that something disturbed God’s perfect universe of all goodness. Something morally cataclysmic had to have happened that allowed the intrusion of moral corruptibility to invade God’s universe. Was this the event recorded in Isaiah 14:12-17?
How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you; they will ponder over you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
The enemy of God knew he could never directly defeat, or triumph over the Lord, but he could hurt Him deeply by bringing death to His creation and death to His children. We all know how the story ended. Adam and Eve took of the fruit, and humanity was changed forever. Suddenly, their eyes were opened unto another realm, and they discovered that the enlightenment they received was far from what they had desired. Instead of finding a greater God-likeness, they entered the realm of death, just as God had said. Literally, the Hebrew phrase, “brought death,” means “dying, you shall die.”
What actually happened at the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit? What actually changed in man’s nature? By taking of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve not only ensured that they would be cut off from the tree of life, but also unlocked a doorway into another world that God never intended for man to enter—a world apart from God’s world of all goodness. As C.S. Lewis suggested in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, sin was a doorway that opened into a world of coldness and a culture of death. Death became part of every relationship, every civilization and every age. Man had acquired the capacity, even the propensity, to live and think outside the boundaries of God’s world of all goodness and apart from His good pleasure.
Rescuing the Human Race
The story of the garden’s deception did not end with the eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For out of His heart of love, God immediately began to unfold His revelation and work His redeeming plan for mankind—a passageway back to Himself and the tree of life. At the heart of the Christian message is how God accomplished this. God knew that to restore man back to Himself, it would involve something profoundly different than all His acts of creation. The Creator would have to become human, die at the hands of His creatures, and rise in triumph over death.
Just as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil opened a doorway to death, and death became part of life, God sent His Son to the world, and through His death, another doorway was opened back to life and God’s world of all goodness. According to Revelations 2:7 and 22:2, the one who, in faith, embraces the gift of life through Jesus Christ has a residency in the City of God and will eat from the tree of life.
This also means that Christians have a dual residency—a temporary, earthly one, and an eternal residence in the City of God. A dual residency means that our life is continually being challenged by the influence of two competing cultures. One is a culture introduced by the serpent, the culture of death. The other is a culture that only knows “life.”
The “life”message is a priority theme of the New Testament and one that is routinely ascribed to Jesus; for He is know as:
a. the Word of Life: John 1:1
b. the Giver of Life: John 6:33
c. the Bread of Life: John 6:48
d. the Light of Life: John 8:12
e. the Way of Life: John 14:6
f. the Promise of Life: I John 2:25
Given the priority of the life message, which culture should have the dominant influence within Christendom? If our spiritual residence is all about life, then our speech and conduct should continually reflect that life source.
In Ephesians 4:29, Christians are encouraged to use life-giving words. The verse states: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (NKJV). The word, “corrupt,” implies: to decay, or tear down; to cause to die. The word, “edify,” implies: growth, encourage to life: to build up. The phrase, “impart grace to the hearers,” means to bring the presence of God to the moment.
To bring the presence of God to the moment through the words we use is a remarkable privilege and a hefty responsibility. As a parent, friend, or spouse, an employee or employer, how do you do that?
First, you should be aware that a tension exists between the culture of life and death, and second, you should become conversant with words that reflect the virtues of Christ, which is another way of saying becoming conversant with the character of Christ. What does your everyday parenting language sound like? What kind of words echo through your home, neighborhood, or around the workplace? Are you characterized by speaking words of life to your children, or speaking words of death? Do you accent virtue or accent vice?
As a Mom or Dad, you might be thinking: “But I do not intentionally speak death words.” We hope that is the case. However, do you ever use sarcasm? Sarcasm is a form of speaking death, so is jesting about the weakness of another. How about over-praising your children, (which is something that the Bible refers to as “flattery?”) That too is speaking death. Using crudeness to make a point, constantly judging others, or belittling yourself are a few more examples of just how embedded the death message can become part of human personality.
Virtue and Vice
Virtue and vice are also contrasting life and death concepts. The DNA of virtuous words and deeds is tied back, not only to God’s character, but to the essence of His being. In Him is life, and that which flows from Him gives life. Virtuous words communicate value, worth and potential, while also promoting beauty. Vice is the opposite of virtue, and so are vice words. They are common words that speak to failure, corruption and defeat. Instead of pointing our children in the direction of heaven, vice words leave them where we find them. They are judgment words and speak of a person as they are, rather than what they can become. Comparatively speaking, there is no vice in Christ, no death, no condemnation, no judgment that leads to death. Words reflecting vice are part of the culture of death. Vice words curse man by betraying the image of God from which man was fashioned.
Yet, today, families are surrounded by a culture of condemnation, judgment and death, in which vice is celebrated above virtue and deceit above honesty, and self-interest reigns over the needs of others. Your kids are growing up in this moral environment, and the condition begs the question: How can a mother and father create a life-giving home environment while living in a culture surrounded by the spread of death? Parents can do so by accenting virtue in deed and speech. By doing so, they are bringing the presence of God (Life) and the protective properties that are embedded in Life to each moment.
To make this point, we used some examples commonly found in moments of correction. Take note of the contrast messages being communicated.
Instead of saying to your child in a moment of frustration, “That was dumb,” consider saying, “That was unwise.” The adjective “dumb” is from the vice column. Think about it. There is nothing in Heaven nor in the character of Christ that is “dumb.” Dumb represents the language of the earth, not heaven. In contrast, wisdom is connected to life and beauty. Wisdom is a virtue that flows from God. Wisdom points the child in the right direction. It is what you want your child to gain.
Instead of saying, “You’re so mean to your sister,” we should be saying, “You need to demonstrate kindness toward your sister.” Why? The first statement is a judgment and takes the child nowhere. The second statement is linked to a virtue that promotes life.
Instead of saying to your child, “You’re so selfish,” consider saying, “You can be more generous.” Here again, “You are this,” versus “You can become this.” You can become generous.
Instead of demanding your child to, “Stop being so jealous,” consider saying, “You can learn how to be content.” Contentment is a virtue that promotes life and speaks to what a child can achieve.
Instead of saying to your child, “You’re lying to Mommy,” a life response would say, “Tell Mommy the truth.” Make the missing virtue your emphasis, not the controlling vice.
The more parents focus on promoting virtue, even during times of correction, the more the character of God is brought to the moment and His sustaining life is brought to the home. In contrast, when wrong behavior becomes the focus of parental attention, then right behavior become less important. Over time, children learn to avoid what not to do, rather than learn what they should do. As a result, learning the way of virtue, which is life-giving, becomes most difficult. (For a comparative list of virtue and vice words, please visit www.GrowingFamilies.Life/Class Handouts.)
Life Speaks Into Darkness
The Spirit of God is living, and all virtue flows from His personhood. Christ followers are connected to this source. The more we make “speaking life” a “way of life” the more light we bring into our homes, and thus, the more life we bring into the culture of death that surrounds us.
This truth also has a salvational component. Children come into this world wrapped in their Ephesians 5:8 clothing. “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” The more parents speak life to their children, the more they are speaking life into darkness. This is a way of pointing them toward God’s grace and His salvation. When parents use death words, they contribute to their children’s spiritual bondage. Death words might accurately describe what a child is doing in a moment, or his or her spiritual state, but death words do not point children to the grace of God, because they are antagonistic to the character of God.
But, There is More!
We live in a culture of death, and the verbal symbols of death surround us. When parents draw their vocabulary from the culture of death, they are reinforcing in the mind of the child, the validity of the death symbols. So death messages are validated in the mind.
It is not just the use of death words, but also the intensity and form in which the words are spoken. Death words wrapped in sarcasm or anger, or said with an out-of-control, raised voice, not only communicate dysfunction, but compile within the mind of children a dictionary of death words that become triggers of future stress and anxiety. We encourage our readers to become familiar with how life and death messages influence the mechanics of thought, and emotions and development of a child’s brain. [LINK, http://]
Parents can also communicate discouragement and death through something as basic as impulsive judgments. We do this because we lack understanding of the facts that are defining the moment. In parenting, failing to seek the broader context of any behavior, attitude, event, or statement can seriously limit one’s ability to achieve full understanding of the moment.
Thankfully, there is a virtuous option that can override the temptation to rush to judgment. Whenever stepping into, or confronted by a situation with your wife, husband, or children, where the first impression stirs up the impulse to immediately judge, step back, take a breath and employ the simple little catch phrase: “Honey, please give me understanding.” [LINK “give me understanding “ Back to the video teaching on this ]
This is a non-accusatory way of saying, “Please tell me what is going on here, so I do not make a wrongful, accusatory judgment.” Seeking understanding is God’s antidote to rushing to a personalized judgment.