The Ten Commandments of the Modern Parent

By Scott Keith

Lately, I have been listening to parents as they try to instruct their children. The methods they use are odd to me. It is as if I am watching a Bizzaroworld where things work backwards; a world where up is down and down is up. My question is simple: Is the modern child incapable of learning right from wrong unless concepts are posed as questions?

For instance, if a child needs to learn to eat their broccoli because it is good for them, instead of telling the child, “Eat your broccoli, it is good for you,” the modern parent ASKS the child, “Don’t you think that you should eat your broccoli, it’s good for you isn’t it?” The assumption seems to be that if the child figures out the answer on their own, then they will be more likely to do the good––eat broccoli––and not the bad––refrain from eating broccoli––simply because having been posed the question of the goodness or badness of broccoli, they now have a vested interest in the outcome.

Silly me! I raised my children with imperatives like: “Eat your broccoli it’s good for you.” Or even indicatives like: “We’re Keiths, and we always eat our broccoli because it is good for us.” It never occurred to me to ask them if the Keiths are the sort of people that eat broccoli. Why? Because they were little children and little children don’t know shit.


This odd state of affairs got me thinking: What if God treated His children, you and me, as modern parents treat their children? Then, the Ten Commandments might look like this.

  1. Don’t think it would be good if you only trusted Me as your God?
  2. Do you think it is nice to make fun of the name of God?
  3. You don’t want to miss keeping My holy day, do you?
  4. Don’t you think you should be nice to mommy and daddy?
  5. Is killing people a kind way to use your hands?
  6. Do you think your spouse would have nice feelings if you stick your thing in someone else’s thing?
  7. Is taking what isn’t yours, nice?
  8. Do you think your friend would have joyful feelings if they heard you say those things about them?
  9. Where would your neighbor live if you took their house?
  10. What would your neighbor have to play with if you took all of their things? Don’t you think that would make them sad?

Come on people, let’s get a grip. It is okay, perhaps even appropriate, to tell your children what is right and wrong. It is okay to tell them, “No.” It is okay to tell them to, “Stop it.” It is okay to tell them that their behavior is bad and that they are sinners. How else will they learn to forgive and learn that they need forgiveness? Our endless pantomime of inane questions will never produce this.

begging kid

We need to tell them––not ask “if”––when they are doing something wrong so that they will learn and so that we, their parents, can then proclaim forgiveness. This truth is why the Ten Commandments are not set as questions to us but rather commands for us. We are to do these things, which we do not do, and thus, we know we need Christ, who has done them in our stead.

Jim Nestingen explains this when he speaks of absolution. Says Jim: “There is a formal way of speaking the Gospel in which the church has historically expressed its confidence: absolution. In the direct and personal declaration of the forgiveness of sin in Christ, the Gospel overlaps the law, both confirming its accusation and bringing the law to its end. Only sinners are forgiven; if you are forgiven, you must be one. Yet it is the very act of the absolution, with the freedom it brings, that allows the conclusion of repentance, ‘l am a sinner,’ to be drawn. Precisely where freedom draws.”

If I am a forgiven, I am a sinner. But I would have never learned that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness if I was the determiner of my own state. If God asked me: “Don’t you think you are a sinner?” My answer would be a resounding “NO!” Therefore, He does not ask me, He tells me through His Law. Once I have heard the Law condemning me, I then hear the voice of the Gospel telling me that I am forgiven in Christ. The voice of the Gospel in my absolution then frees me before God and actually frees me to care about and serve my neighbor. And then, having learned both His Law and His Gospel, I know good and bad, right and wrong, from the position of a person who is free in Christ. I am now free to serve God through serving my neighbor with the good.

This cycle of Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution, is the point of the Ten Commandments and the point of all good parental instruction. Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution, leading to freedom for the good. Not inane questions to children.