Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12 NIV).
This month we’ll be observing Father’s Day on the 20th.
The idea of honoring and respecting one’s parents is deeply rooted in biblical
religion. It goes all the way back to our Old Testament, in the very beginning,
and yet, what exactly does it mean to honor one’s parents? More importantly,
what does the Bible mean when it teaches us to honor our parents?
The answer to the above question can be seen in the reason
given in Exodus 20. It tells us to honor our parents so that it will go well
with us in the land. Oftentimes, people hear this promise and see it as an
arbitrary reward for following an arbitrary command, as if, God were imposing
on the created order something foreign to it. God, however, is the God of
creation. He is the maker of heaven and earth, and he is teaching us
something about how the created order works.
Our parents are those who have gone before us, our fathers
and mothers, our grandparents and great-grandparents, and these people
represent the accumulated wisdom of the past. God meant for us to do as
Jesus did, grow in wisdom, and humanity grows in wisdom over time. To honor
one’s parents is to accept one’s limits as a human being and recognize our
dependence upon others. It’s as we receive the wisdom of those who’ve
gone before us, honoring them, that we receive the blessing of walking in ways
that lead to blessing, ways that lead to long life in the land.
Our culture, at present, is fascinated by the future and
by the new. It is very suspicious of the past and of tradition. It is very
tempted to forget the limits of our humanity, our creaturely dependence. Like
the story of the original sin, our culture is tempted by the desire to be as
god, knowing for itself good and evil and rejecting
the counsel of the past. Many believe we can reshape society in the way
we see best, without regard to the past, and all will be well in the land, but
the Bible sees it differently. It says that is the way to destruction.
This is the story of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. He
rejected the counsel of the older, wiser counselors, the fathers, so to speak,
and instead listened to his peers, and the kingdom fell apart (1 Kings 12).
I am not saying that we don’t critique the tradition.
The apostle would say we are to obey our parents “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1).
By this he meant in so far as they are in tune with God’s purposes. As one
stream of Protestantism would say, the church is reformed and always being
reformed according to the word of God. We don’t throw out the past, we
reclaim it, making it our own, recognizing those places where our parents were
misguided. The standard for the church is God’s word, the Bible.
Of course, in the larger society we make changes to the
tradition through appeals to reason, in the belief that, in things below,
there is a shared knowledge of God’s law written on the heart. We recognize
that people suppress the truth in unrighteous (Romans 1) but deep down they
know the truth, and we keep arguing for it, including arguing that we should
respect the received wisdom of the past.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Father’s
out there! We honor you! Likewise, we honor all those who went before us
and the great gift of the knowledge they have bequeathed to us that has led
to all the blessings we’ve known in this land.