One influential Christian apologist and author recently detailed what he feels is wrong with America’s youth. His premise was simple and, for the most part, on target: relationships determine beliefs, which engender values, which foster behavior. The apologist’s primary example of this continuum is that our beliefs, values, and finally our behaviors will be molded by the foundational relationship with our earthly parents. The focus of his presentation revolved around the role of fathers in the development of young adult character. As he detailed studies indicating the critical nature of a man’s involvement (or lack thereof) in an adolescent’s emotional health, he identified the crucial role men play in influencing who their children become as well as in laying the foundation of the earthly family dynamic. Although I agree with much of the speaker’s argument, I believe what he didn’t say proves one of the biggest problems facing contemporary Christianity.
The thrust of his discussion was that bad parenting is the primary reason for the demise of our youth. Although I believe this is a true and a tragic commentary on our society, disengaged or absentee parents do not relieve their offspring of personal responsibility. Children are individually accountable for their actions. Our society tends to let youthful rebels cling to a built-in excuse for all of their poor behavior: “It’s not my fault I do bad things. Blame my dad. He’s the lousy example.” The problem with allowing this to continue is not just that enables more of the same behavior but that it makes a parent feel that if his or her kids become gunmen, drug addicts, or petty criminals they chose their paths solely because of poor parenting.
I was graced with godly parents; they are one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I could not have asked for better parents. Were they perfect? No. But what imperfections they might have had do not give me an excuse to continually misbehave or make poor choices. Likewise, I wasn’t a perfect parent. Frankly, God overcame my parental inadequacies in developing a faithful and wonderful Christian son. However, despite my shortcomings, he can’t use me as a cop out for poor behavior any more than I can take credit for his salvation.
I admit that children from dysfunctional homes have some limitations because of a lack of exposure to good role models and spiritual truth. We are all significantly shaped by the good and bad of our earthly parents, but that doesn’t mean we are held captive to their influence. We are not totally helpless and paralyzed victims when subjected to substandard parents and role models. If we were, we’d be destined to repeat the inadequacies of our earthly mothers and fathers. We’d have no means or power to rise above our circumstances.
In the end, the relationship that should most define and form our characters is the one that we have with Christ (1 John 1:7). The most influential relationship is the one we do or do not have with Him. The Lord is all-powerful in overcoming our limitations—even bad parenting. Although our earthly relationships have significant sway over what we become, I am convinced that the gospel’s power and the Holy Spirit’s influence are more significant. John 1:12-13 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” I believe this points to the fact that our Heavenly Father’s influence supersedes that of any earthly parent.
Family is the greatest evangelistic institution God ordained, and even its sad disintegration can serve as a tool to point people to Jesus. As we survive our own parents’ shortcomings and as we watch our kids overcome our own, we’ll witness the grace that comes from our Heavenly Father. As we come across those struggling with their own family issues, we can lovingly direct them to a perfect Heavenly Father. By taking the focus off of failed earthly relationships and exalting the most critical relationship, we proclaim that relationship with Jesus is paramount in overcoming the human condition. In fact, it’s the only relationship that can completely help us overcome. We must not allow poor parenting to excuse a failure to communicate what a relationship with Almighty God restores.
We are all sinners. No one is righteous (Romans 3:23). We are without excuse before a Holy God (Romans 1:20). That’s why we must come to Jesus in life-transforming faith and trust in Him as our only hope. We must pursue Him with unrelenting passion. We must obsessively seek His guidance and direction. We must make ourselves pliable before God so that He can transform us into the image of His Son. In that supernatural sense, our relationship with Him truly is foundational in altering our beliefs, values, and behaviors. For we must all recognize that apart from Him there is nothing good in us (Philippians 3:9; Romans 3:10-23).
* This is an excerpt from my book, Captivated Anew: Restore to Pursue Him. It can be found at most on-line bookstores in digital format.