“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this (Deuteronomy 24:16-18).
This may seem to be a bad choice of passages for those who were looking for “something encouraging.” First, it was part of my reading today, so my own challenge is to see the relevance of truth regardless of where we are in the Scriptures. Second, the text may seem a bit negative as we contemplate the seriousness of sin and what might appear to be “overkill” in terms of punishment. But this text does provoke questions and even though written under a different covenant relationship with God, I believe there are some ideas from this text that ought to encourage us.
We often measure successful parenting as to how our kids turn out. It is inevitable that when our kids make poor choices (to state it nicely), the first thing that goes through a parent’s mind is either anger or self-condemnation. Anger usually surfaces when we believe our kids have humiliated us (the parents) by their choices. We anchor their choices to our reputation and status in our network of friends and family. Their bad choices diminish the reputation we think we have created in the minds of others, regardless if it is actually true or not. They dishonor the family name because “we are better than that,” or so we think.
The other side of the coin is very similar with a slight twist: We often fall back on “where did we go wrong as parents” because our kids made poor choices. Again, we trap ourselves by making their pathway as a testing ground to validate our efforts rather than helping them mature to adulthood. If we had been good at our job this would not have happened. We develop a “god-complex” that since we were not going to raise our kids the way other parents do it, then our kids are going to be different – or better citizens than the kids of parents who raise their kids differently. We end up treating our kids like “hired hands” rather than our kids. We assume far more “control” of outcomes when we really don’t have that kind of control. Our kids either embarrass us or validate our efforts rather than they are trying to figure out their own pathway of learning. That problem is usually ours… not theirs.
We often measure our self-worth and value through our kids’ choices. While I get the temptation, we do not do our kids a favor when we make everything too much about us and not about them. We try and prop up our own insecurities by using our kids as a proof-text for how we understand our own significance and value. That being said, we can also make the mistake of trying to live out our dreams through our kids. Their success makes up for our perceived failures and lost dreams. It still comes back to the problem that we are trying to feel better about ourselves by raising the best versions of ourselves possible.
All that being said, the text makes it clear that every person is an individual and responsible for their own choices. Kids are not to be punished for what their parents do and parents are not to be condemned for what their kids do. This does not mean that parents can have incredible influence on how their kids turn out. Bad parenting often produces bad kids… but that is not automatic. But if God says that even in family units each person is responsible for their own choices, then we have to stop putting pressure on other people that it is their responsibility to make me feel good about myself or they are responsible to make me significant.