Honoring Father and Mother

We are, to a frightening extent, like God. When God made us in His “image,” he molded us into little models of Himself, in some mysterious way comparable and compatible, body and soul, male and female, to His incomprehensible Being. The great fifth commandment, that of honoring our parents, directly connects with the imago dei in us. Like God, we have the power to (pro)create children made in our image, and the power to direct and influence their lives and the lives of generations to come. This divine power is indeed frightening.

It dawned on me that when my children were young, they had little or no real comprehension of God. All they could comprehend was what was directly in front of them ─ me and my wife their mother. We were god to them. One of the great mysteries of life is why God would endow a sinner like me with such power over humanity. Fortunately for me, I have had good parents. What about those who have had bad or even abusive parents? How hard it is for them to ever be able to make a healthy transference from their parents to God Himself when they come of age! God has entrusted his reputation to all the parents of this world. All children gain their first impression of God through their parents! However mysterious this is, it must be so, for parenting is a necessary aspect of the image of God in us.

But this commandment is not directed to the parents; it is directed to the children. The one obligation God lays upon all humanity is to honor father and mother, with no proviso as to whether they are worthy of honor or not. The whole course of our lives is directly linked to how well we do this. There really is only one responsibility of every human being when it comes to being a child, and that is to honor his/her parents. We might even say that the very commencement of our spiritual journey to God is made by passing through the gates of this commandment. No doubt this is easier for some than others, but we must bring ourselves to think the very best of our flawed parents, serve them, love them, be gentle with them in speech and action, and when young, obey their wishes if it does not conflict with God’s righteousness. Doing the work of this commandment is to do the work of spiritual formation; it is the way that God transforms our souls and prepares us to be parents ourselves. We are all handed, to some extent, a “twisted baton” in the race of our lives. It is our responsibility to untwist it so as to hand to our children a straighter one. The future of the entire world depends on this.

A creation blessing accompanies this commandment. When God created the world, He then blessed it so that everything could function the way He intended it to grow and prosper. Parents are endowed with this same power. However, many parents, out of their own poverty, refuse or are unable to give blessings to their children. This is a serious failure, and many children carry this lack of a blessing all their lives. In spite of this, God promises to the ancient Hebrews (and to us His covenant children) who make the decision to honor their parents, that their “days will be long in the land.” This is nothing other than a creation blessing we can bring upon ourselves even when parents do not endow us with this blessing.

This great commandment is the great “swing commandment.” The first four are vertical in that they have to do with our relationship with God (worship and honoring God). The following commandments are horizontal in that they have to do with our relationship with others. In this commandment we find both dynamics in action; relating to parents in their divine function leads us to God, the great Father of all, as well as the horizontal aspect of relating to parents as human beings.

6 Responses to “Honoring Father and Mother”

  1. Ben Wheaton Says:

    Credo ut gens christiana mundum multo scandalizet quando ex consuetudine qua inveniamus in divina legem, id est, secundum illam legem supradictam, ab paganis videmur vivere. Testis consuetudinis communitatis regni dei potentem est.

    • Thanks, Ben, for blessing us with this Latin quotation. I was wondering if you could help us crack the mystery of this text and decipher it for us 🙂

      • Ben Wheaton Says:

        Come now, Mr. John, surely you can figure it out? It’s no more difficult than the Vulgate. It is from a text that has existed lo these past 7 hours, and (although there is a slight grammatical mistake at the end) reads as follows:

        “I believe that the race of the Christians makes the world stumble greatly when they are seen by the pagans to live according to the way of life which is found in the divine law, that is, according to that law mentioned above. The witness of the way of life of the community of the kingdom of God is powerful.”

      • Thanks, my Latin Scholar friend, for accommodating us. By the way, you say the text is 7 hours old? Could you give us a brief history of the text and its origins?

  2. Ben Wheaton Says:

    Eh? Oh, I composed it. Latin composition is a skill all too little used these days.

    In all seriousness, I liked your post. I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and been impressed at the varying applications within it of the Ten Commandments.

    • Ben,

      I’m so impressed with your Latin ability. Thanks for participating in my blog. Blessings to you and your family. We need to sit down and talk someday about your wonderful program … Abbey is in an excellent honor’s program where they work their way through all the classics of Western Lit. from Homer on.

      Peace and Joy!


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