- We are all born with a sense of right and wrong, given to us by God, and known as the conscience.
- Our consciences are affected and changed as we grow and experience the world.
- Ideally, the conscience will be honed and become more in tune with the divine law.
- Often, the reverse happens and the conscience is dulled and warped as time goes on instead.
- The end result is that while adults should have finer consciences than children, because many adults warp their consciences when they should be refining them, children often have better consciences than adults, though theirs are still immature.
It is this last word, immature, that I want to focus on. Something our pastor said in Sunday school made me think of this again. Going through the first chapters of Genesis, he said that God’s creation though good was not finished by the end of Genesis 1. By this he meant that Adam and Eve were like children; they were good, very good even as they were created, but were not mature. This came up again as we got into Genesis 3 and discussed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was pointed out that there are at least a couple of other passages in Scripture where similar language is used. In Jonah, the Ninevites are said not to know their right hand form their left. Who cannot tell right from left? Young children. And in the book of Isaiah, a prophecy is given that a young woman will bear a child and before the child knows to choose the good and reject the evil such-and-such will happen. It seems to mean that this prophesied thing will happen before the child knows what is good food, before he chooses appropriately what he should put in his mouth.
The point here is that children are the ones without discernment, who cannot distinguish good from bad whether in practical matters or moral ones. And while even the tiniest children do have consciences, this is still largely true. They have, if you will, infant consciences which need to be trained and need to grow up to be fully what they should be. Of course this often does not happen as it should which brings us back to the points above.
So what is the application for us? We need to train our children’s consciences. This is done on two levels, the physical and the mental. We train our children physically through what Charlotte Mason calls habit training. Using her non-nagging approach (and I think the non-nagging aspect is important so if you are not familiar with how Charlotte says to go about such things, I would read up on it), Charlotte would have us work on such things as attentiveness, cleanliness, and courtesy, among many, many others.
The hope is that such good habits, once instilled, will become part of one’s character. But it is never enough to have just outward obedience so we must also work on the mental or spiritual side. There are many preachy resources out there for training one’s kids in virtues. I can’t imagine, and I know Charlotte would agree, that these do much good. She would say that the child knows he is being put upon and rebels and perhaps even moves the other direction. Instead, she advocates a gentle approach which makes use of fine stories, both biblical and otherwise, which show the character and actions of people. These do not need to be only stories of people who make the right decisions or who, if they make the wrong decisions, very clearly get their just desserts. The Bible shows us that people can be shown in all their human imperfections and that our stories do not need to have goody-goody happy endings. Besides the Bible, Charlotte recommends the use of biography in teaching such virtues. But I think we need not confine ourselves to non-fiction even. There are many fictional works which also explore the limits of good and evil and our own human natures. And when we read such stories, we do not always have to point out all their implications to our children. The lessons are better learned when they take them themselves. Our job is to put quality material before them; we must trust to God to apply it to their hearts.
I think all us moms experience a bittersweet feeling s our children grow. We miss the baby days and then the toddler days and so on. But we should also take joy in seeing our children grow and mature into the people they are supposed to be. And to return to where we began, I think God also would have taken such joy in Adam and Eve as they matured if they had stayed on the path He put before them (not that God’s plans were thwarted by man’s sin, but that is another topic). The battle is harder since Genesis 3, but we must still strive to grow (and to have our children grow) into mature, godly people. And it is nice to me to think of God as a Father taking pleasure in seeing His children grow into the people He wants them to be.