My family from around the world (from Mexico to Pennsylvania to Northern California) recently assembled in Capistrano Beach for some family bonding.  Since the Fourth of July, I have been in a series of arguments with one of my atheist uncles about God. My uncle has asked several times during the course of our arguments, “What sort of megalomaniac God demands that you worship him or live a good life in order to receive reward?”

Although my mom has not-so-fondly nicknamed two of my cousins “Birth” and “Control,” they gave me an amazingly intuitive answer to my uncle’s question. People always say that having children taught them a lot about God, and after this weekend, I definitely understand.My cousins and I were playing a rousing game of duck duck goose, when one of them – Casey, age 8 – decided to sprawl out all over the floor instead of just sitting in his place. This unfortunately led to my stepping on him by accident when I was running around, and I apologized and asked him to sit up straight. Sometimes God makes the first stages of our sin hurt, but that pain is supposed to be a warning to stop what we are doing. The first time, Casey listened to me, but a few minutes later, he was sprawled out again. As another cousin, Adam, ran around the circle, he had to jump over Casey to continue the game. Then, Casey intentionally grabbed Adam’s leg to try to trip him.

At this point, I realized it was time to discipline Casey. I stopped the game and asked him to sit up straight. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, and he stopped responding to my questions. I tried to explain to him why tripping someone was unacceptable – there was a glass table next to us, and Adam could have easily hit his head on it if he had fallen. I attempted to convince him why it was dangerous to be laying on the floor instead of sitting up normally – did he like getting accidentally stepped on? But Casey would not listen, so finally I had to deliver an ultimatum: either he would sit up straight so that we could safely play the game, or he couldn’t play at all. At that point, he yelled that he didn’t want to play and ran out of the room.

I wasn’t a megalomaniac recklessly asserting authority over the game. I simply saw that Casey’s behavior could easy cause someone to get hurt, and I knew that I needed to prevent that from occurring. Playing the game was not a reward I could arbitrarily met out. I wanted Casey to play, but if he was going to jeopardize the safety of himself and those around him, I had to remove him from the situation. Although God wants everyone in heaven, He can’t allow people unrepentant of their sin to ruin it. In the end, it is we who choose to make Jesus Lord over our lives. Casey was the one who chose to walk away when he didn’t want to do what I demanded. All God asks of us is to respect His authority and do what He asks. Ultimately, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

So when God tries to discipline us with our sin, how do we respond? Do we listen the first time and then fall back into it? Do we throw a tantrum because we don’t want to listen? Do we walk away from Him because we’d rather follow our foolish whims? Or do we humbly respond because we recognize God’s higher wisdom and concern for our safety? When we appreciate sin for what it is, and understand God’s authority, it’s fairly intuitive that heaven simply shouldn’t be a reward for everyone. It suddenly makes sense that it is only to those “who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Maybe my uncle just needs to have some kids of his own to understand.