The Flawed Theology of Naughty and Nice Lists

A few years ago, my mother gave me a Christmas pillow on which a picture of Santa’s naughty and nice lists was embroidered.  She had a strange smile on her face when she gave it to me and once I looked at it closely, I figured out why:  Both my and my sister’s names were on the ‘naughty’ list.

Nice, Mom.

Or should I say, naughty?

For years moms and dads the world over have preached Santa’s naughty/nice list theology to their children.  If you’re good, you earn your way onto the nice list and a subsequent pile of gifts under the tree.  If you’re bad, you join the ranks of naughty listers who get nothing but charcoal in their stocking.  With such a threat looming large, what kid in his right mind wouldn’t be on his best behavior, knowing that ‘he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake?’

But being ‘good’ in order to win Santa’s favor and an accompanying stack of presents is not why we should be good.  And, convenient as it may be when trying to get our sugared-up stir-crazy kids to cooperate tree decorating night, teaching kids that being good gets them their way, while being bad gets them kicked off the list is plain bad theology.

God simply isn’t like that.  He isn’t concerned about a superficial ‘goodness’ that is only as deep as our greatest desire for a Lego Turbo Tank.  He doesn’t reward the ‘good’ for properly kissing up one month a year or punish the ‘bad’ for not minding their p’s and q’s.  He loves all His children and while our ‘badness’ grieves him, it does not make Him love us less.

As cute as Santa lore is, we parents would be wise to make sure our kiddos understand that, unlike the jelly-bellied man from the north, God cares more about the condition of our hearts than our external behavior.  It’s a little thing called grace and come Christmas morning, perhaps the best way to show it to our children is to lavish love and gifts upon them all, both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ and thank God that He doesn’t separate us out into naughty and nice, but places us in one big category called ‘forgiven.’


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