Freedom Calls Us to a Higher Standard
Why do external enforcers like threats and punishments not work as well as an internal control environment based on freedom? Maybe some insights from sixth graders can help shed light on the topic.
“It’s weird, I know, but that’s how things work. My old teacher was big into control, lots of threatening and punishing. Probably more threatening, but it was pretty constant. Names on the board, calling parents, staying in from recess, and not being allowed to go on field trips. We saw it all. Then a different teacher comes in and changes things. We have rules and all, don’t think we don’t, but it’s different. For one thing, the classroom doesn’t feel like a Zap You kind of place. If you mess up, you need to take responsibility for what you did and deal with the situation. The new teacher actually helps you deal with the situation, too, if you want him to. Ryan
Before you didn’t feel trusted. You always felt like you were bad somehow, even when you weren’t being bad. Sometimes I acted kind of bad because I felt like, whatever, I’m bad so I might as well act like it. Now I feel like we are trusted more, and it’s like, if I’m trusted I don’t want to break that trust. Do you know what I mean? Lauren
It was like a competition. You’d come to school kind of wondering . . . well, like . . . I knew what the teacher wanted and expected from me, but he made such a big deal of forcing me to be that way that I wanted to do the opposite. I wasn’t like that in the lower grades, but I turned out that way in the sixth grade. Tyler
We all feel freer. Our new teacher wants us to enjoy school. He really does. He doesn’t let us get away with stuff, but we really don’t want to get away with stuff like before anyway. Before it felt like school was kind of a fight every day; the new guy just took the fight out of it. Before I dreamed up ways to cause a little ruckus, now I don’t do that. Taylor
I like how Desire of Ages (1898) says that “Our little world is the lesson book of the universe.” (p.19) Said another way – we are God’s classroom. And apparently he has had to make the same kind of decisions in his classroom that we make in ours. Hmm . . . force or freedom? In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul explained that we “no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, we live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Rom. 6:14) As we study God’s classroom management plan two words become more and more important – love and choice.
Just prior to the birth of Jesus, Desire of Ages describes how –
The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. (p.22)
God created us with the power of choice and He places incredible value on our freedom. One of the reasons I am drawn to the concepts of choice theory is that it provides me with a psychological framework that complements my view of God, and further helps me to include freedom and grace at home and at school. I want to do what works and freedom and choice do that – they work.
I want to welcome teachers from the Upper Columbia Conference who are now following The Better Plan blog. I hope you will feel free to add to our conversations about non-coercive living. I have very good memories from my time as one of the superintendents in Upper Columbia. Thank you, Sharon Searson, for letting teachers know about The Better Plan.
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What you have said is so true Jim – and I like the text in Romans and quote from EGW that clearly support God’s plan to win back the human race by his love and the sacrifice of his Son – not by force.
How does this square with the other side of most Christian’s belief about the ultimate judgement of all humans when God will determine whether or not each individual has wholeheartedly chosen him and his kingdom – or not, and based on that judgement be granted eternal life or sentenced to eternal death?
I understand that there are consequences for each choice we make, but it seems that in choice theory the consequences are designed to teach – not punish. I can’t think of a more severe punishment than eternal death. To follow on the line of thought that I believe you have created here – at what point would a teacher or parent, say “I’ve tried patiently to teach you through love, and given you multiple opportunities to choose the better way, but you have refused. Your opportunity for choosing to love me in return for my love is over. Now – i’m permanently rejecting you. From now on you shall never again be called my child, you are no longer my son or daughter.”
I can’t imagine that happening. I can only speak from personal experience that a parent would tirelessly keep on trying and never giving up. Now, with that being said I do know that my parent has also stepped back and is somewhat distant with my sibling, but if he is ever in need my mom is there to hear and offer help if possible….mostly prayer.
As a teacher I think of offering help and support as much as I can, but I also have to be respectful if the student doesn’t want my help. I suppose at that point in time I wait and pray for a better outcome. I pray that I don’t get in the way of how God will navigate the problem.
I love your phrase “tirelessly keep on trying.”
I think this is what God is doing for me right now, which I appreciate a great deal!
Such a profound, wonderful, and terrible topic that I shrink from even trying to respond. Yet I do have a few thoughts to share, even though I hesitate to do so.
I think God is doing all He can to woo us, to lure us, to prompt us, to invite us, to heal us, to forgive us, and to encourage us to come close to Him and live in the safety and love that only He can provide. I suspect that this process is not easy in a world built on freedom, free will, and choice. To use your parent / child analogy, I can imagine a good parent having a similar love for their child, even as the child may be behaving poorly. The parent can love and support and provide for the needs of the child, yet as the child grows older he drifts from his parents influence and chooses other options. The child begins to get into trouble and the future path seems clear unless changes are made. The parent seeks all the more to reach his child, to connect with, to love, to encourage, to warn, and to forgive, yet the child is unresponsive to these overtures and seems hellbent on the direction of his choosing. The parent, even now, continues to hope, continues to reach out, although ultimately it is the choice of the child to respond or not. And if the child chooses to follow a destructive course, I can see the parent shedding a lot of anguished tears over the situation. Yet in a world built on freedom, what more can be done other than to let the child go his way?
I don’t see this “letting go” as a punishment. The word punishment doesn’t seem to really fit here. It is a result or a consequence, but I don’t see it as a punishment.
You make a good point that choice theory seems designed to teach, rather than punish, and I would agree strongly with this. I like this explanation a lot. However, it should be kept in mind that boundaries and rules and consequences are all appropriate choice theory elements. A student, for instance, because of his choices, may be asked to leave the school that he/she is attending.
What we wrestle with is the finality of the closing scenes of sin. I trust that God will manage the closing of the sin chapter in a remarkable way, a way that even increases our trust, and in a way that will inspire us to want to consider the details and scope of his love for millennia to come. I wish I had more of those details now.
We are wrestling with precisely the same issue Jim – the “closing scenes of sin”, and I so appreciate having the comfort of your friendship to share the questions.
While there are many texts in the Bible that speak of God’s judgement (even punishment in the mind of those Biblical writers) I choose to believe that it is God in the process of doing what you have so clearly described that loving parent doing with and for their child hellbent on making the wrong choices – during this earthly existence. There are consequences for every choice we make in this temporal life, and I see God doing everything possible to “save” us from the negative results of poor (or just plain uninformed) choices while here on earth that cause pain and suffering for ourselves and those who love us.
When it comes to eternal life, however, I focus on those texts that indicate that the issue of sin (in the world – and in each of us personally) is far beyond our control or choice. We did not choose to be born into a world “where sin abounds” nor did we choose to be born with a “sinful nature” that easily seems to cloud the minds of those who seem to be in rebellion against God. To change our birth situation and sinful heritage is entirely beyond our choice. It must be a gift from God alone. And the gift is given without restriction to all of His children. The Bible is clear that there are no degrees of sin – all are sinful. If we are fortunate enough in this temporal life to have some exposure to God’s love, and a little faith to trust it, then our lives will be better on this earth for having trusted. But our good fortune to have heard and believed, does not provide any merit when it comes to being granted eternal life and ultimate freedom from the pain of this life we were born into. I believe that one day we will all see how far reaching is God’s love – how gracious His choice to redeem all His children and recreate everything – and how little difference there really was between those “chose” him and those “refused” when it comes to the Eternal standard of love.
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” I Corinthians 15:22
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The difference a classroom atmosphere makes in amount of learning.