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Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Heartache

 

In my pastorate, the most heart-breaking experience I have is to witness parents lose children to rebellion. I have seen parents lose children in death. Oh, how we hurt, then. But little compares to the grief of parents whose children reject them and the Lord. They probably leave the house at age 18, anxious to get away from the parents who gave them life. Perhaps they marry an unbeliever. They spurn the warnings of the elders and leave the church, violating God’s covenant, despising their baptism. Grandchildren born to them are kept away. Now, very little contact is had with their own flesh and blood—the children for whom they gave their life.

There is no greater heartache nor cross for father and mother—not the death of believing children, not the loss of job, not grinding poverty. Parents would rather lose children in death than lose them in this way. The constant knowledge when they retire each night that their beloved children are wandering in darkness makes them wonder whether Paul was in his right mind when he said: “Rejoice evermore…. In everything give thanks.”

My heart goes out to these parents. All of them. I pray for them often in my congregational and personal prayers.

Parents come to pastors with the good question, “Why? Is this a reaping of what we have sown?” Not necessarily. Perhaps, but perhaps not. A few things we must remember: First, there is forgiveness for parents whose own faults and failures have contributed to this rebellion (notice, I did not say “caused this rebellion,” for the children themselves are responsible). When the parents recognize their own sinfulness, repent, and seek forgiveness, the Lord is merciful with regard to this sin, too. Second, no parent deserves to have any believing children, even those parents who have all their children in the church. Besides, as one grieving parent told me just recently when I talked about this with regard to his wayward child: “The last chapter hasn’t been written either.”

We ought to wonder: Is this sad reality increasing in our day?

History

Regarding that, I would caution you before you immediately answer “Yes.”Ecclesiastes 7:10: “Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.” In addition, already in Luther’s day these same struggles had to be faced—the troubles and evils in families regarding children, young people, and faithless mothers. One day at mealtime Mr. Luther complained: “The Jews highly esteemed children. Our women almost detest them. The reason: one does not want the burden of bearing and educating children; women only want leisure.” Today, too, parents realize that parenting is a call from God that takes a mountain of effort and an ocean of grace.

You may go back further than Luther to the Old Testament, and feel the heartache of Isaac and Rebecca regarding Esau; of Abraham and Sarah over Ishmael; of Jacob with some of his wicked sons. The Lord Himself gave the prescription in Deuteronomy 21 for dealing with wayward sons and daughters, indicating that believing parents from the beginning bore the heavy yoke as they experienced that “they are not all Israel which are of Israel.”

So the sorrow is nothing new. But the evil does increase, even as the New Testament forewarned. “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death” (Matt. 10:21). II Timothy 3:1warns that in the “last days… perilous times shall come… men shall be… disobedient to their parents, unthankful, unholy….” A mark of the evil of the last days will be the rejection of parental authority by the children and young people.

What is the remedy for this? What weapon does God give against this? What of our children? Believing parents ask these questions because we love our children! We care for them. We desire their good. We do not want them to stray, to perish! How do we raisethem? These are urgent, critical questions in these evil days. Are there more important questions for God’s church than these?

The Christian faith answers: Godly parenting in an ungodly world, in the consciousness that we are, as it were, the hand of God upon our children. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it that way. In its explanation of the ten commandments, the Reformed faith puts in the mouths of the youth (and all who are “under authority”) the confession that “it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” The hand of the parents is, as it were, the hand of God.

On Divine Business

 

Believing parents must recognize that they are the “hand of God,” and teach their children so.

No individual text says it so simply, but the whole concept that God has His representatives on this earth, in many different spheres of life, indicates that the Catechism’s figure of speech is apropos. “Our Father who art in heaven” shows that we are parents in order to reflect the Fatherhood of God in heaven. Why did God create families with fathers, mothers, children? To teach us about Him. We represent the Fatherhood of God. When children submit, they must not only see their parents, they must see God and Jesus Christ in them. (See also Eph. 6:4: Obey your parents in the Lord….” Gen. 18:19: “For I know him that he will command his children….” God powerfully knew Abraham, with the result that Abraham taught his children in the Lord, for the sake of the Lord. And Deuteronomy 6 is the instruction of the Lord to parents to teach the children on God’s behalf.) Everyone under authority is under Jesus Christ (see Eph. 6:5, 6, too).

It is as though God reaches down with His hand, and rules His children through each of the different positions of authority (husband, elder, employer, government, father).

So, we’re on His errand in this business of child-rearing, not ours! We are not free-lancing! We do not write our own job-description! We are under authority! Indeed, children are under us, but we are under God!

That is true for all authority. For that reason, every time the one in authority is instructed regarding his duty, the Lord adds this warning: Remember, you are there on behalf of another. As one metrical version of Psalm 82 puts it: “Let rulers fear their Ruler; their Judge let judges fear.” Thus, the only purpose that the children are under us is for the Lord. We are servants of the Lord!

Failure to remember this is ruinous! Then the young couple decides to have children with this mindset: “How we want to have children! Surely, it will enrich our life!” But they must ultimately say: “We will accept our responsibility of parenthood in obedience to Jesus Christ, not for our own ends, but as a calling of God, under God.”

Remembering this, we are humbled: That is awesome. We are servants of God. Every failure in rearing children is sin against Him! Refusal to do right will be judged by Him. In the end, we are answerable to no one but Him.

Remembering this, we are confident. We stand here as representatives of another. What fear they must have who do not understand this. They are on their own! But we stand in behalf of the Lord of the church and the One who loves the children, who says: “I commission you to care for them.”

“Why, Dad?”

For the parents alone to be aware of this is not enough. They must be sure that the children know this. The main duty of children is to recognize that, too! Ephesians 6:1is written for them. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” So the Heidelberg Catechism is written as their confession: “It pleases God to govern us by their hand.” Whenever children see (hear, submit to, etc.) us, they must think: “God put them over me.”

It is the parents’ calling to remind them of this, with regularity. Let this become part of the daily consciousness of the children. “Dad and Mom are not here for their own sakes, but for God’s! What they do, they do for Him.” How can parents convey this?

You are not permitted to go to the movies. Why Dad? Because God has committed you to our care, and we are responsible to Him. The final reason is not that this is what we like for you, but that this is what the Lord wants for you. His Word says….

Your curfew tonight is…. Why Dad? Is it because we like to be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour? No! For God’s sake: God commands us to watch out for your soul. We must give account (Heb. 13:17). And because….

Your discipline for breaking the rules will be…. Why Dad? Is it because you hurt our feelings? Because we don’t like what you’re doing? No! God instructed us to do this—spank you, ground you, etc. Not to do so would be for us to disobey God.

We send you to a good Christian school, make sure you know your catechism every week, and take you to church twice on the Lord’s Day. Why Dad? Well, not because we like to follow tradition, or because that’s what almost everyone else does, but because we have a solemn obligation to God to train you up in His fear. And this is the way….

God help believing parents to be faithful “hands of God.”

(next time: Goals and objectives of Christian parents)