I’m going to peck out some of Psalm 78 here due to the length of the text and really the fact that I just want to write briefly about the big picture in this psalm that has stuck with me for the last few days.
He…commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know [God’s commandments and covenant], the children yet unborn,and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God…and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
(Psalm 78:5-8 ESV)
The Psalmist goes on through nearly 70 more verses to explicitly illustrate and use examples of Israel’s failures and shortcomings and rebellions and faithless deeds. I was really left feeling relatively uncomfortable after reading through this. There is a difficult implication here that I don’t like the sound of.
Psalm 78 seems to be offering us the instruction that the best way to pass on our faith and heritage is by making very plain to our children our own shortcomings and failures and God’s longsuffering in dealing with us. I don’t know if I’m alone here, but I’m not the biggest fan of airing out my faults with my kids. I know that they know I’m not perfect, and I’ve talked with my daughter clearly about the fact that “daddy makes mistakes too”, but the feel of this chapter is different than a nebulous admission of being something other than super-human.
Asaph, the credited author, lays the wood to the Hebrews by giving specific examples of cowardice, gluttony, whining and grumbling, impatience, lies and deceit, idolatry, taunting God, and then the text ends by saying God had to start with a little kid, David, and raise him up personally to get the nation back to some state that resembled order. This is all just the surface level stuff and doesn’t even begin to deal with the implications of telling all the stories that were alluded to.
Without dragging this out too far, there is simply no way around the truth here (trust me, I’ve tried to think it through). There are very few texts that explicitly instruct us in our duties as parents. There are examples of things in the narrative passages of Scripture, but as far as direct, to-the-point instructions there is little to be found. Which creates an even greater discomfort as we realize that of all the things that could have been said, highlighting our weakness and God’s subsequent mercy is one topic that made the short list.
But in pondering this curious parenting strategy, there is a subtle genius to it. As parents, our primary charge has to do with leading our children to Jesus. Before any talk of sports, grades, level of social adjustment, talents, school, chores, or any of those things there is our responsibility to nurture the eternal aspects of their souls. We are to find ways to deliver the Gospel to them. And my reticence to start gushing about my own checkered past is evidence that I need to embrace the Gospel more myself. The Gospel has everything to do with me devaluing my contribution to the salvation process and elevating Jesus’ work. John the Baptist didn’t seem to care who knew whatever about him, but he was supremely concerned with the increased fame of Jesus and the decreasing recognition of his own name. Paul’s testimony was rarely complete without some sort of blunt acknowledgement of his own current weakness or of his horrendous pre-redemption occupation.
The message of the cross isn’t: “you guys are pretty close to getting it right, lets give you a little nudge and you should be all set.” The cross, in it’s bloody and grimy and filthy glory beckons to us in bold print that our failures are heinous and disgusting, and no nudge could every get us where we need to be, only the brutal execution of an innocent man, who happens to be God, can reach far enough to drag us out of the curse of sin. We’re not even close without Him.
I’ve got some thinking to do. I need to process just how I can be transparent enough to get this point across, while at the same time being conscious of how much my kids can understand. This isn’t about glossing myself, but it’s about being truthful. My temptation isn’t to tell my children that I’m God, but to silently let them walk day to day believing it. The Scriptures here assert that the way we open the door of truth to lead our children into the pastures of grace is by modeling humility and repentance, not by competing with God for their ultimate affections.
Because I trust the Scriptures implicitly I believe that they will not see me in a negative way because of this, but in the way that Paul’s friends must have seen him as he said, “Don’t follow me for me, follow me because I’m following Jesus. Following me is a dead end, I’m just as broken as the rest of you, but the One I follow, He’s everything.”
That’s the Gospel.