Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.
That the family structure in twentieth century America is in a state of crisis is denied by no one. It is not only the moral majority and the conservative political activists that sound the warning, but the major news weeklies have addressed the issue as well. They acknowledge that the family structure has changed dramatically over the past half century, and they are forced to concede that, however “enlightened” those who applaud the changes may claim to be, the results are troubling. With chagrin they admit some re-evaluation may be necessary.
In particular, the most troubling statistics have to do with the youth, the troubled youth. The studies of their behavior, values, interests, knowledge (or educational ignorance, if you prefer), and goals in life have yielded statistics that can only be classified as alarming.
Statistics show that the number of crimes committed by juveniles (pre-teens even) has simply been skyrocketing. John W. Whitehead, in his book, The Stealing of America, gives some interesting statistics. According to his information, from 1950 to 1980 the rate of adult crime increased 300 percent. In that same time span serious crime (which excludes then such “minor” infractions as burglary, shoplifting, and auto theft) committed by children (under 15) increased by 11,000 (eleven thousand!) percent. The more “minor” crimes increased by 8,300 percent. And though all the figures are not in yet, the decade of the 80s indicates no slowing of the trend. In New York the epidemic is so alarming that children from the ages of 13-15 can be tried in adult courts and be assessed with similar penalties.
What has also pricked the national conscience is the alarming increase in teenage suicide, the act of ultimate despair and isolation. By the young it is usually the emphatic statement, “No one cares for me. I do not mean that much to anybody. I can not make you love me. I have concluded that by living I will never be important in YOUR eyes. Therefore, I have killed myself. At least I will make you feel guilty for your lack of love. You have driven me to this.” And following the despairing shout of suicide there is, indeed, a huge body of guilt left behind that the targets of the suicide must deal with. But that is another matter.
The point is, suicide speaks of estrangement and deep hurt. Now, what must society conclude when its youth, upon whom it is lavishing such staggering amounts of material “blessings” and goods, continue to choose in increasing numbers not to live? Or they drug themselves into mental oblivion. Is the “grace” of “goods” really the answer, ever? Is it what the souls of the young are really looking for and need? Is this what their behavior tells society?
The answer, like the blood of Abel, cries from the ground. It shouts in society’s face. The multitude of things is not the answer. It is not what they need and crave. But who listens? Are we listening?
It is important in my judgment to consider what the factors are that have led twentieth century society and the modern family to the crisis, not to say “mess” it now is in.
I say it is important for US as believing parents to consider the various factors that have led to this volatile mixture of anger, isolation, rebellion, and despair that so characterize society’s youth, because if we think we and our youth are immune to the factors which have brought the evil of our day about, we are sadly mistaken. The ease with which we can adopt society’s life-style and values is simply too apparent to deny; but if we continue to do so, without consciously and vigorously resisting it, what we and our children will reap (right along with the rest of society) is going to be frightening, namely, estrangement from the ways of godliness and from God in our generations, and that without remedy.
First of all, what is the answer? What does a person need through the formative years of his childhood and youth? What must we give our own children if we will see them develop properly? The answer, I believe, can be stated in one word—love and attention.
Now, admittedly, we used two words here and not just one, but we do that on purpose. This is the whole point, love without attention (personal attention) is not love. “Attention” belongs to the very definition of love. Without it, ‘love” is but an empty word, a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal. Adding the words “personal attention” to the word “love” should be redundant, unnecessary, understood. But, sad to say, that is precisely what is not understood today.
Here we put our finger on the single most contributing factor to the breakdown of the twentieth century family (and with it the whole of society): the absence of “love,” that is, the absence of what love is according to any true definition of it.
Society uses the word “love.” The word is used ad nauseam. But for all that, they do not know what “love” really means (perhaps I should say “demands”). They will not count the cost or make the sacrifices “love” requires.
In fact, they have been perverting the truth of love so completely that what they mean by love is really nothing else than sheer self-centered self-love. Our society has taken this mentality to new heights (perhaps I should say new depths). When the only thing that stands between an unborn child and extermination is whether it is convenient for the parents to have “it” at the moment, you are dealing with a selfishness that resembles sheer deviltry.
Spare the life of the rapist and murderer. This is love of the neighbor. Snuff out the life of the child developing in the womb. This is love of the neighbor too. Does such a society have a clue as to what love is? It is towards those who promote such monstrous things as good that I believe the imprecatory Psalms are aimed. And this selfish, loveless (except for self) spirit is devouring the 20th century home, and with it the whole of the fabric of life.
How this comes to expression, and what the modern philosophy behind it is, we will consider in future articles, D.V. But first let us consider the scriptural perspective.
Scripture makes very plain that the strength of the home is to be the covenant of love, love that translates into attention for one’s family and children.
At the heading of this rubric is a phrase. The phrase is “When thou sittest in Thine house….” That is, of course, a Scriptural phrase. It is lifted from Deuteronomy 6. Moses is calling the heads of the families of Israel to instruct their children in the law, and the wonders, and the worship of Jehovah God. Thou art to do this “when thou sittest in thine house….”
Mothers and fathers of Israel, think of that a moment. “When thou sittest in thine house….”
Here is one of the great questions of the day. Dost thou sit in thine house? When? When, fathers? How often? And how long?
And if thou dost, WHAT dost thou do when thou sittest in thine house? How is the time commonly spent? Doing what? Perhaps watching television for hours on end? And the children too?
Can that possibly be what Moses had in mind?
That is obedience to the text?
That describes a covenant home, the homes of the church?
I fear that in our day and age it does to an increasing measure. But is that strength and love, or is it weakness and transgression? Surely our consciences tell us what God’s judgment of the matter will be.
What you have in Deuteronomy 6 is the truth of the covenant applied to family relationships, and, in particular, the relationship between fathers (parents) and children.
The family relationship is to be a reflection of the relationship between God as Father and His children, the church, that is to say, a covenant relationship.
What stands at the heart of God’s covenant? Well, essentially two things, fellowship and promise. This is apparent from the Scriptural record. When God made His covenant with Abraham He did not just reveal a doctrine about something, but He drew Abraham into His fellowship, and He counted Abraham as His friend. And He assured Abraham of that in countless ways. In His friendship with Abraham God spoke to Abraham, revealing what was in His own divine heart, and Abraham responded with prayer and petitions. They had conversation.
And we well know the promises God made, promises concerning the inheritance of the land, promises concerning the birth of the seed, promises that pertained to his generations. God promised faithfulness. And part of His faithfulness was certainly that He dwelt with His children, the seed of Abraham When His children needed Him, He was there. He was always just a “cry” away.
The same was true with Israel, God’s peculiar people. According to His covenant, God had fellowship with them in the tabernacle, and made promises concerning the Kingdom. In this, God was faithful.
And this is to be reflected on the earthly level in the family. What is at the heart of the Reformed family? What else but God’s covenant? How is this to come to expression in our homes? How else but in friendship (or fellowship) and promises (in marriage, and at baptism)? And what is it that betrays and works contrary to that covenantal life? What else but ignoring the covenantal members in their needs and being unfaithful to one’s vows? In such an environment of rejection there can only be estrangement; and the fruit of estrangement is bitterness and going one’s own way in resentment.
This has become the environment of the twentieth century home. It is the antithesis of the covenant of love. This is demonstrated by what has happened to the promise (vow) of marriage. How meaningless it has become is evidenced by the skyrocketing divorce rate (the naked enmity of which certainly wounds children deeply).
And if the heart of love is the covenant of fellowship in the home, we see just the opposite today.
What do we see? Homes filled with parents who have no time for their children. Home is not a place where the young get sufficient or proper attention. In home after home they do not grow up feeling wanted or valued by their parents. Their parents do not speak with them. They yell at them perhaps, but there is no interest in the child’s daily activities. The child feels that he is little more than an inconvenience.
This is devastating. If my father and mother (especially mother) care little or nothing for me and my character and have no time for me, who in this world does? Can I be sure of anybody? (This is part of the shock of learning that one has been adopted. I was unwanted even by my own mother!) A child that grows up feeling “isolated” and “rejected” (ignored) grows up a bitter, resentful child, and that bitter resentment will show itself in the end, as it has today in explosive fashion.
Such a small matter: begetters of children having not time for them, paying little attention to them. Such tremendous consequences: a lawless generation.
I am not suggesting that this is the reason for the waywardness of every child who is a grief of heart; but when rebellion is not the exception, but a widespread and even a skyrocketing phenomenon, as it is today, conclusions can be drawn. And from those conclusions, warnings—warnings we must take to heart, lest the judgments which God brought upon Israel in their generations, and which we see visited upon our own society today, visit our homes as well. What some of these things are that are tearing at the fabric of the home life, we will consider in our next article, D.V.