Mitra: The legacy of the faith of our fathers
One of the great hymns, Faith of Our Fathers, celebrates not only faith in God, but also the mood of piety within the family.
A part of the hymn’s lyric goes like this: “Faith of our fathers living still/In spite of dungeon, fire and sword/How sweet would be their children’s fate/If they, like them, could die for Thee.”
It’s a picture of the deep relationship between regard for parents and regard for the faith which they have given us.
It is indeed sweet to have a faith for which we could die.
Sadly, as author C.S. Lewis has said, those who are willing to die for their faith easily become willing to kill for it.
When we try to understand what the Bible has to say about faith in the family, we should be careful to understand it in the biblical sense and not in a sense of uncritical adoration of parents or their faith.
There is a trend of thought today that says submission to parents is part of an authoritarian age which has passed away.
Certainly, the most conservatives of us have no desire to return to ancient Germanic or Roman concept of father.
In ancient Rome, the father had right, without incurring any legal penalties whatsoever, to kill his children if they displeased him.
The right of life and death over the children was held by dads.
Fortunately, this is not a Christian concept.
As a matter of fact, such patriarchal authoritarianism must never be confused with piety.
Let us not undermine the biblical teaching with unbiblical reactions.
A reaction to excessive authoritarianism is found in the current attack upon the family.
The renowned sociologist and anthropologist Margaret Mead tells us we must totally reorganize our society because children today know more than their parents do.
Their education is much better and knowledge is changing so rapidly, says Mead, it is ridiculous for parents to assume that they have the right to tell their children what to do.
It is interesting that the Bible itself does not subscribe to a totally authoritarian picture of the family relationship.
Jesus went to the temple at 12 years of age and apparently forgot about his parents.
They left for home, then they missed him and started a search.
When his mother finally found him in the temple disputing with the scholars, she scolded him.
His reply was, “I must be about my Father’s business.”
Hardly sounds like total submission to parents.
St. Paul could, in one sense, never have sung, “Faith of our fathers…”
He left the faith of his father and repudiated it in one sense.
He was not one who submitted to a belief just because his parents did.
One of the great commandments from the scriptures is: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
Sometimes, in order to obey God, we may have to go against our parents’ wishes.
But, there is no time when we may dishonour them.
In the case of unworthy parents, there is the honour due them as persons, as those who have sacrificed something for us even though we might have suffered wrong at their hands.
It is true Paul repudiated the Jewish orthodoxy of his parents for the new Christian religion.
But, in defending himself before Governor Felix, he said, “I do serve the God of our fathers,” (Acts 24:14).
His conversion was not totally a repudiation, but a fulfillment.
It’s as if he was saying, “I’m really going back to the true religion of the fathers.”
Many of the secular attacks on the family today are without justification.
Underlying so much of the talk we hear today is the idea that, because they are young, youth know more and achieve.
It is certainly true that many great things have been accomplished by young people, both today and yesterday.
But, let’s not forget Moses was an octogenarian when he led the Israelites out of Egypt.
Let us forget the business of old and young and together walk the path of
Respect is due every human being.
The young people’s incapacity to accept this fact in regard to their parents will destroy their capacity to relate to anybody else.
They cannot have a lousy relationship with their parents and have a good relationship with everyone else.
Even the worst parent is worthy of respect as a person.
The biblical standard of honouring and obeying parents does not mean that children are without recourse.
The church does not endorse carte blanche everything parents do or say.
We do not live under Roman law today.
The laws of the land say parents are denied the right to do certain things to their children.
Let’s remember, above all, the example of Jesus because “he learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
When the Father asked him to die, he said, “Father, save me from this hour.”
There wasn’t any voice, but he knew there was an answer.
Jesus replied, “Not my will but yours be done.”
In Psalm 103:10, David said, “He [God] has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.”
If we really understand a right relationship with God, we will rightly relate to both our parents and to our children.
Narayan Mitra is a chaplain at
Thompson Rivers University.