In today’s society, a society in which many young people seek recognition by being against any form of authority, the influence of parents seems to be diminishing because of children’s desire to become independent and free from parental authority.
The fifth commandment is God’s plan for preserving the integrity and survival of the family. The fifth commandment reads: “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
The placement of the fifth commandment in the Decalogue is very significant. The first four commandments deal with the people’s relationship with God. The remaining six commandments deal with human relationships within the community, that is, how people should live in association with one another.
This arrangement means that human relationships are based on a person’s relationship with God. Unless there is a positive attitude toward God, the relationship between human beings will stand on a shaky foundation.
At the top of human relationships stands the individual’s relationship to the family, especially an individual’s relationship with father and mother.
The Hebrew word translated “honor” in English is כָּבֵד (kābēd). The basic meaning of the word is “to be heavy, weighty.” When the word is applied to an important person in society, the word refers to “someone who is honorable, impressive, worthy of respect.”
Philip Graham Ryken, in his commentary on Exodus (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), p. 603, wrote:
The opposite of honor is dishonor. Just as the fifth commandment requires respect for parents, so it forbids showing them any disrespect. If parents are weighty, then they should not be treated lightly, as if the fifth commandment doesn’t even matter. Sadly, rebelling against parents has become a common sin.
A case of dishonoring parents, in this specific case, dishonoring mother, was reported by the Chicago Tribune recently, when a son and a daughter sued their mother for “bad mothering.”
Now, ask yourself: what is “bad mothering”? Make your list of things that you consider to be a case of “bad mothering.” Ready? Now, read what the article reporting this case of “bad mothering” says. What follows is an excerpt from the article published in the Chicago Tribune:
Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for “bad mothering” damages allegedly caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.
The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then-7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, “haggling” over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.
Among the exhibits filed in the case is a birthday card [the mother] sent her son, who in his lawsuit sought damages because the card was “inappropriate” and failed to include cash or a check. He also alleged she failed to send a card for years or, while he was in college, care packages.
The Illinois Appeal Court dismissed the case saying that the mother’s action was not “extreme or outrageous.” The mother’s attorney said that the children’s case was a “litany of childish complaints and ingratitude.”
The mother’s attorney also said that the lawsuit was an attempt by the mother’s ex-husband to “seek the ultimate revenge” of having her children accuse her of “being an inadequate mother.”
This is a sad case and a sad story. It is sad when a family becomes so divided that there is contention within the family and children lose respect for parents. It is a shame for children to sue their mother because she did not give enough money to her son for his birthday or because she did not allow her daughter to stay out past a certain time. These selfish demands are a clear violation of the fifth commandment. These children failed to honor their mother with their requests.
The attitude of these children toward their mother is another evidence that we live in a fallen and sinful world. The Bible presents a high view of the family and the children’s actions against this mother reflect the brokenness of the world in which we live.
Christopher J. H. Wright, in his book Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 353, wrote:
There is abundant material in the Bible affirming the high view of the family as God’s intended, creational context for human lives to begin, for them to be nurtured and shaped according to the values and standards that please God, to learn and express the social and relational skill essential to our humanity, to offer and receive support at many different levels of life and work, abundance and need.
On the other hand, composed of persons who are fallen and sinful, the family can intensify the horrors of human oppression and wickedness, and, when it is endowed with ultimate value or priority, it can become an idolatrous substitute for the true worship of God. There is similar abundant material, as we saw, depicting dysfunctional families, broken and grieving families, and families acting in concerted rebellion against God.
What this tragic case reveals is that there is an urgent need in our society today for people to rediscover God’s plan for the family so that parents and children may enjoy and share the responsibilities and privileges that come from being members of a family.
If you are unable to see the Hebrew letters in the essay, download the Biblical fonts and install them on your computer. Download the fonts here.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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