Theology | Culture | Race | Politics
Candy Coated Sin
In Spring 2014, I had the privilege of taking Theology and Secular Psychology with David Powlison Westminster Theological Seminary. In this particular assignment, I had to read, "The Berenstain Bears: Get the Gimmies," and engage in an apologetic assessment of the ideas propagated in this book.
All of us have either had first-hand experience or have witnessed the melodramatic face-off between a child and their parent at the checkout stand of a grocery store. You cannot help but watch as the battle of the wills ensues, because the child’s incessant whining and crocodile tears has captivated you; indifference is no longer an option. You are all ears, despite the fact that this contentious exchange is painfully awkward to witness. They have your undivided attention until one of the parties is crowned the victor. This is the tension brilliantly captured by Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Get the Gimmies.
The authors have an adept understanding of children’s insatiable desire for more, their coercive tactics used to subject their parent’s will to their own, and the inner turmoil of the parents who wrestle with the choice to either deny or oblige their child’s request. Yet, for all of the authors’ brilliance, with their assessment of what motivates the “gimmies” and the solution offered to cure the “gimmies” is devastatingly hollow. The superficiality is indicated in three ways: first, by the nomenclature, “gimmies”; second, by the moralistic message given by their parents, and third, by the final solution.
Throughout the book, Mama and Papa Bear say their cubs have, “the worst case of the galloping gimmies,” or “a bad case of the gimmies.” These phrases—as cute as they are—tacitly suggest that “the gimmies” is an external phenomenon that lays hold of the cubs, without warning, in the same way the chicken pox afflicts a child. The gimmies is nothing more than a euphemism for what the Bible calls covetousness, greed, and selfishness, all of which are subsumed under the biblical term “sin.” The problem does not lie in that the candy is cleverly positioned near the checkout stand at the grocery store, nor does it lie with the marketers who target their advertisements to little children who have an inordinate desire for more —although this deserves its own biblical assessment. No, Scripture puts the onus in the human heart. Jesus said there is nothing external that can enter into the body and defile the individual, but it is what comes out of the heart that defiles us (Mark 7:15). The greed, selfishness, and covetousness displayed by the cubs are an outward manifestation of an inward allegiance to the sin that has enslaved them and their parents, who have bowed their knee in submission to their sinful desires.
“Of all the outrageous, disgraceful, embarrassing behavior I have ever seen,” he roared, “that selfish, greedy performance by our cubs was the worst! Brother and Sister have the worst case of galloping greedy gimmies I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed Papa Bear, Mama Bear nodding in agreement. They both rightly identify the sin which has entangled their cubs, but they have also erred, because they described the selfishness and greed as symptoms of the gimmies, when in reality the opposite is true. A symptom is nothing more than a physical feature of an internal disease. Mama and Papa Bear have misdiagnosed the disease their cubs are afflicted with; they are suffering from an internal disease of which no man is exempt, and it is called sin.
An improper diagnosis of this disease leads to an improper treatment, which inevitably leads to an eternal death if left untreated. Papa and Mama Bear exhort their cubs with moral platitudes of this sort, “count your blessings,” “selfish, greedy cubs can never be happy, because you just can’t have everything you want all the time—life isn’t like that.” These two altruistic statements are borrowed capital from the Bible. The cubs have been given no grounds for why they should stop being selfish, greedy, and covetous. Mama and Papa Bear believe that the “gimmies” is an innocuous condition, and as a result, they have essentially said to their cubs, “take these two moral lessons to heart and call me in the morning!” Not knowing the cubs’ their condition will only worsen with time, because the disease which lies in their hearts is terminal (Rom. 6:23).
As stated before, a misdiagnosis leads to improper treatment. Consequently, Mama and Papa Bear heed the counsel of their parents, and implement a behavior modification strategy which seeks to quell the gimmies. From now on, the cubs must choose one treat prior to their trip to the grocery store. The plan went off without a hitch, or did it? What happens when the cubs return home and see a commercial for a brand new toy? Behavior modification seeks to change the behavior of the cubs, without regard for its determinant. Sin is the determinant of the disease state, and also the suppression of it which only prolongs the inevitable. We were born in sin and shaped in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), and no amount of moralism or behavior modification can eradicate this insidious sickness—no! The cure lies in Christ alone, who by His active obedience fulfilled righteousness on our behalf, and now that we are in Him and have His Spirit dwelling within, we desire to walk in righteousness—in fact, we are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18)—and put to death the sinful desires of selfishness, covetousness, and greed. The cubs need change from the inside out, and the gospel is the only effective cure for this deadly disease.