The family is the foundry in which our theology is forged. I choose those words carefully because the principle is important. Theology—what we think about God—is often seen as the domain of scholars, philosophers, preachers, and such. But I am convinced that an individual’s most fundamental thoughts about God are wrought through the anvil, hammer, and tongs of family life.
Where do our children learn to discern right from wrong? How do they find out how to make beneficial choices? Where do they start to appreciate that all their actions—the good ones and the bad ones—have consequences? Where does it dawn on them that they are neither above the law nor above anyone else? Ideally, it happens in the family. These questions concern doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). They are, at their core, theological.
One of the first Bible stories we taught our kids was the one about Moses and the Ten Commandments because God’s Law gives us fundamental guidelines for living. I believe the fifth commandment is a crucial hinge. Let me explain. When we read Exodus 20, we can see two main sections. Verses 1 to 11 address our relationships with God. Verses 13 to 17 speak of our relationships with one another. But verse 12 is different. It is the only commandment that deals with relationships across generations. Children are to honour their parents. Why? Because if you think about it, the entire plan for passing down faith through the ages relies on this principle. A child won’t receive spiritual guidance from a parent the child doesn’t respect. He or she will have no interest in—and may even despise—that parent’s beliefs. But, children must be taught how to honour. For that to happen, parents must build it into the family system.
It takes wisdom and a fine sense of balance to get it right. We reap what we sow, and as parents, if we sow what is dishonourable, we can expect a harvest of dishonour. The extremes on both sides of the parenting pendulum will never yield a good crop. Some parents opt for the do-as-you-like, permissive style of parenting. They believe their only role is that of a friendly companion with no particular agenda. Because such parents do not set boundaries, permissive homes tend to yield chaotic children. There is no honour given by these children because it wasn’t asked for in the first place. At the other side of the pendulum’s arc are the oppressive, legalistic, and domineering parents. Their homes yield angry and resentful children. There is no true honour given by these children either. Sullen submission can sometimes be bullied into a person, but respect never can.
So it’s up to parents to create an environment where children are given good reason to be obedient to the fifth commandment. We are called upon to show children the benefits of a life of faith.
- We are to encourage them but not exasperate them.
- We are to train them but not torment them.
- We are to love them but not give them a license for wickedness.
Theology: it begins with God, and it’s ultimately about God. And by God’s plan, it’s forged in the foundry of the family. Parents dare not delegate this duty or let it slip away for another generation.