Faith of Our Fathers: Worthy of Ridicule or Rejoicing?
by Jonathan Hamilton
I have long wondered how to think of the early influences that the Lord used to shape my life. I’m not just referring to positive influences, but to the overall influences, both good and bad, that impacted me during childhood. Primarily, I’m thinking of the teachings and actions of my parents, close family, close friends, and church family.
It is very easy to look for and find flaws, warts, spots, bruises, bumps, and even a malignant tumor here or there in the lives of everyone who has ever had any impact on me. In one sense, I get this. We’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. Forgive and forget. In another sense, there are legitimately wrong ideas and actions I’ve heard and witnessed that have done real damage to my thinking and living. To deny either, or to confuse the two, results in error. To think that I am alone in this is another error. Everyone who has ever lived has had this same reality to one degree or another.
(Note: I’m going to use the term “fathers” as a general term to describe the key influencers in our lives mentioned above)
The problem with my generation (let’s say roughly the 20-40 year-old crowd), as I see it, is two-fold:
First, we tend to perceive “mistakes” where no mistakes exist. In other words, we elevate non-mistakes to mistake status (thereby holding our fathers to a higher standard than that which we hold ourselves to). We confuse differences of opinion with mistakes. If my parents did it this way and I currently do not like it, it must be a mistake. If I do it the opposite way as my parents, I am clearly right and they are foolish and obstinate for not doing so. I’m talking about differences like child-rearing philosophies, corporate and personal worship music, which Bible translation you prefer to read, movie choices, your kids’ hair, and other sundries that are really far smaller than the massive hot-air-filled edifices we’ve reconstructed with them. With all of these glaring blind spots in our fathers’ lives, it is nigh unto miraculous how well we turned out, eh? We really raised ourselves well in spite of the mine fields all around us!
Let me give just one example of ways this might flesh itself out. And please remember, the term “example” implies a representative sample of a larger whole. This means I do not think it is wholly representative of the point I am trying to illustrate, nor is it the only example I could have chosen.
Take the Christian school vs. public school question (for the purposes of the example, you could combine home school with the Christian school option). It seems quite popular for some in my generation to insist that public school is not just an option, but the only “right” option. It is now foolhardy to home school or send your kids to Christian school and you risk great ridicule for saying otherwise. This seems to be a massive overreaction by a group of us who went to Christian school or were home schooled and look back on it with disdain and ungratefulness. Ironically, one of the things we passive-aggressively (or brazenly) criticize our fathers for, their ill-founded dogma, shows through with unmistakable clarity in our lives at this point. Unmistakable, that is, to everyone but us.
The second problem is that when genuine mistakes are present, we do not know how to respond in grace and truth. The general tendency in young Christians is to respond very poorly to mistakes made by others, especially our fathers. I want to be very clear at this point: I’m not talking about egregious abuses; verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, or otherwise. I’m talking about long-held bitterness over the times your dad sinned in anger against you by yelling, or even cursing, at you. Or the time your Mom punished you by forcing you to read your Bible for an hour. Or the persistent, nagging shortcomings you witnessed in your parents’ relationship as they struggled to keep it together. Or the genuine favoritism your dad showed your sibling. Or the genuine favoritism your mom showed you (hadn’t thought of it that way, had you?).
I’m here to tell you your fathers sinned against God and against you, and so did mine. And guess what? You have sinned against your kids, and so will I. And you’ve sinned against people who aren’t even your kids, but whose lives you have influence on. And so have I. How ought they to respond to us? The same way we ought to respond to our fathers. In humility. Considering one another more important than ourselves (Philippians 2). Forgiving. Do you realize how much the Bible says about forgiveness? And soberingly, lack of forgiveness? Let me list just a few:
Matthew 6:14-15 (from The Lord’s Model Prayer):
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Colossians 3:12-17 (A whole passage on putting on the new self…in other words, this is what saved people do. Notice the talk of thanksgiving, a helpful combatant against bitterness, and all the other tremendous fruits listed; note also the emphasis on the Word of Christ and that we should let it dwell richly in us, not barely in us!)
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
And: Eph. 4:31-2; Matt. 18:21-2; 1 Cor. 13:4-6; Acts 7:59-60 and Luke 23:33-44 (where Steven and Jesus forgave their murderers, a bit heavier of a crime than most of us will ever experience), and several more.
In summary, it is not good to imagine faults where they do not exist. Your lack of joy and your unfulfilled existence will prove this if you persist. It is also not good to respond to real sins (“debts” from the Lord’s Model Prayer) with pride and an unforgiving heart. Live in a spirit of humility and forgiveness in the areas where real sins were committed against you. Beg God to give you a heart of gratitude, thankfulness, and genuine rejoicing toward your fathers in areas where they were not. And ask Him to help you to have the biblical knowledge and discernment to know the difference (Philippians 1:9).