Among the many time-tested ways of motivating one’s children to behave well is to tell them, when they fail to do so, that Jesus (or God, or Our Lady) is disappointed with their behavior. “Time-tested,” I say; how well this strategy passes the test is, like so many things, a matter of debate. Much of that debate seems to result from different understandings of what the statement implies—to the adults who use it, and to the children who hear it.
On the one hand, the idea of disappointing Jesus echoes the old Baltimore Catechism definition of sin (once memorized by all children preparing for first Confession and Communion) as “an offense against God.” God is offended; God is disappointed—the second idea is easily derived from the first.
On the other hand, telling some children (and some adults) that “God is offended by what you did” is bad strategy. Broadly speaking, the remark could provoke three possible reactions: (a) contrition, involving an appropriate degree of guilt and a resolution to offend no more; (b) guilt in an excessive or unhealthy degree, perhaps leading the culprit to despair of being good; and (c) anger or resentment at the messenger or (worse) at God himself.
If all these reactions are possible—and experience testifies as much—why is that? And how do we know when to expect result (a) versus (b) or (c)? In other words—how do we know when it is good to bring the idea of divine dissatisfaction to bear?
Read the rest at the Register.