Having just celebrated Father’s Day, it seems appropriate to share a few thoughts from my Father’s Day message yesterday. I think there are some important lessons we can learn from ancient biblical Dads. Recently one proud new Grandpa told me that his greatest wish is that his children would learn from his mistakes. So, in addition to whatever good our ancient biblical fathers did, today I want to suggest that we can also learn from their mistakes. With this in mind, I offer a few fathering lessons from the biblical fathers.
First, there’s Father Abraham, who was even ready to slaughter his son Isaac for God. Abraham certainly does not jump out as a model father. When you consider that his near sacrifice of Isaac follows soon after his abandonment of his elder son, Ishmael, you need to wonder if this isn’t the kind of parent about whom one would call the Children’s Aid Society. So, what’s the lesson? It’s this. Don’t let the faith you follow blind you to your children’s needs.
By the way, I recently heard someone say that if Isaac had been Abraham’s grandchild and not his son, there is no way that he would have obeyed any divine order to sacrifice him! You might consider sacrificing your kid, but NEVER your grandchild! Grandchildren are just too precious! They’re your reward for not having killed your kids!
Well, as we know, Isaac doesn’t fare much better as a Dad. In fact, Isaac was literally blind to who his children were. And how often does that happen to us? How often do we see our kids as who we need them to be instead of who they really are? How often do we value our kids because of what they do for us instead of how they become who they most need to be? Of course, we also often only value our parents for what they can give us. The lesson here is that we need to value our children – and our parents – for who they are, not who we want them to be!
Well, are we at all surprised to learn that Isaac’s son Jacob doesn’t get that great a report card as a Dad? If we look at his record, we can see that Jacob actually raised the creation of sibling rivalry to an art form. How? He played favourites. He gave that expensive, fancy, colourful coat to Joseph, just because Joseph was the son of his favourite wife. He turned Joseph into a spoiled brat who was deservedly resented by his older brothers. You see, by playing out issues with his wives in the lives of his sons, Jacob was in many ways the author of his own family problems. Some of us will be going to Huron Country Playhouse next Saturday to see the musical based on that story from Book of Genesis. It’s a story to which we need pay close attention because in a world of increasingly blended families, that’s an increasingly complex issue. Third lesson: Don’t play favourites and never allow your children to become pawns in whatever battles you may have with your former or current partner.
Skipping ahead several hundred years, we come to what I call the mother or father of them all: King David. You all know about the bathtub antics he got up to with Bathsheba. But did you know that he actually allowed one of his sons to get away with rape and another with murder? And although rape and murder are terrible things no matter how you look at them, these involved David’s own children.
Remember that David was considered to be the greatest of God’s anointed leaders. And of course, back in David’s time, it was customary for a man to have many wives and many, many children. Among his children were a daughter, Tamar, and a son, Absalom. By another wife David had a son called Amnon. As his children grew to adulthood, troubles began in the royal household. Of all the possible women he could have picked, being the king’s son, the young man Amnon developed a real thing for his half-sister Tamar. By hook and by crook, he managed to lure her to his bedside one day. When he was done with her, having raped her, Amnon threw Tamar out of his house. Well, naturally, Tamar felt nothing but hatred for Amnon. But did David do anything to punish Amnon for what he had done to Tamar? No. But when Tamar shared her story with her brother Absalom, he was filled with a wild rage and a determination to seek revenge. Indeed, so overcome with hatred was he for half-brother Amnon that the Bible tells us that Absalom had Amnon murdered.
But again, David did nothing. And later, when Absalom turned on David himself, David still sought to protect him. You can read more about this sordid tale in the scriptures.
For now, let us consider if there is a lesson to learn from all this. I think there is. It’s this. Over-indulgence of our children is not love. We all do it to some degree; but in its extreme form it can produce very selfish, narcissistic and even dangerous children. Remember: just as our parents aren’t all good because they are our parents, so also our children aren’t all good just because they are our children. King David’s mistake was that he would tolerate just about anything from his kids. But his misguided love led to tragedy for him and his family.
Here’s something else to consider. We often say that things are getting worse. Our children are getting worse. Somehow or other, every generation has the mistaken belief that the next generation is worse than their parents were. Well, by the standards that Amnon and Absalom set, the very worst of our sons and daughters would qualify as near angels. And by the standards set by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, all of us who know we fall short as parents are actually doing remarkably well.
Finally, let’s remember that all these ancient biblical Dads – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David – were much beloved by God, in spite of their many faults and weaknesses. Perhaps we may say that God is an over-indulgent parent who loves us no matter what. For who other than the most loving of fathers, the most devoted and caring of parents, our Heavenly God, would come down to earth and give God’s life for a bunch of rebellious, spoiled and misguided children like us? It doesn’t make sense, does it? But God did it anyway. And thank God for that!