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What are some of the ways you have gotten in the way of someone who needed to get to God? Here is a nonexhaustive list of ways that parents can impede the progress of children who need the Lord. These things are real and sometimes painful. Though I’m focusing on what a parent can do wrong and how damaging these things can be, they are not reasons for a child to reject God. If anyone refuses to submit to God, there is only one reason—personal, volitional rebellion.
Every humble parent reading through this list sees themselves in it. There is no such thing as perfect parenting. Perhaps the items listed do not represent your most typical sin against your children, but you have something that gets in the way of your child getting to God.
Some parents may even exclaim, “How can any child become a Christian?” The question is as excellent as it is a humble acknowledgment that all of us are flawed. On our best “parenting days,” we are broken images of God’s original design. The reality of our parenting failures is where you must find transformative encouragement in the power of the gospel.
Let me state it clearly: there is no kid so messed up that God cannot save. Though I would never excuse a parent’s sin, especially mine, it does not matter if the parent got it mostly right or royally botched things up. God’s grace has wide borders for people like you and me. No sin—ours or our children’s—is outside of God’s power to save.
The great apologist, Ravi Zacharias, came from a broken family. His testimony is a reminder to all of us that God’s grace has broad borders. In an ironic, gospel way, it was the darkness of his family life that ushered him into the family of God.
I came to know Christ on a bed of suicide when I was seventeen—desolate, desperate. My father just finished telling me I’d be a total failure in life. I was born a failure, he said. Somebody brought a Bible to my bedside. I’m so thankful to my heavenly Father that my dad lived long enough to write a letter to me—my dad died fairly early—and said, “Will you ever forgive me for the things I said?” And yet, in the dark of the soul, I found the heavenly Father to be closer than I’d ever realized.
Paul Miller gives us more insight into what Ravi is saying.
Because we live in a fallen world, God has to use broken images of himself, such as a father. In fact, all the images God gives us of himself in Scripture are flawed. The fact that we know our king or father is flawed means we know what a good father should do. Because we are created in the image of the triune God, we have the instinctive knowledge of how a father should love. If we didn’t know what a good father was, we couldn’t critique our own. Modern psychology can unwittingly trap us in our pasts. It is just another form of fatalism that kills our ability to see the story God is weaving in our lives. —Paul Miller, A Praying Life
We see the fatalism that Paul Miller talks about every day as the cries of the victims shout us down and stamp out the hope of the gospel. We can become so focused on what happened to us that we never see how the terribleness of our past could be the vehicle that takes us to a redemptive, transformative future.
As image-bearers, we know what justice, love, hope, and life should be like for us. The ideal of all these things comes in our “God-image package.” It’s why we want them. We’re not like the animals of the field who can’t long for anything. We want something because our Creator created us with eternity in our hearts.
I used to be one of these victims. As an abused child, I knew that I could have a better life. I felt it in my soul and saw it in my world. Rather than embracing the purest forms of these good things that God places in every heart, I chose to snatch false representations of them wherever I could.
There are few people more damaging to themselves and others than the angry victim. It’s a person created in God’s image. They know what is right and true because their conscience tells them so (Romans 2:14-15). Rather than running to the perfect picture of all our hopes and dreams, the victim falls victim to false images.
The unsettling truth is that what they want is not wrong, but what they believe will satisfy them and the means of acquiring those desires is wrong. They cry for justice, but their method of getting it hurts others. I did that. I wanted justice for the atrocities of my father, and my methodology included unabated anger at him.
The gospel was a faint sound that my anger and perceived entitlements muted. The only hope is for that gospel message to penetrate the darkness of the victim’s heart. The gospel never says your hurt or experience is unreal. It validates your story while introducing you to another one—a transformative one.
I realize that Christianity can sound like something from the last century or a process that does not bring immediate results. We live in a “get it now” culture, which is not how the gospel functions. There is an “element of evolution” to the gospel in that some of the things you long for take time.
A world that moves at the speed of the Internet is not interested in our plodding gospel. I understand. But perchance someone has hurt you. If you have been the victim of injustice and other abuses, I want you to know that God is not slow. He’s here. He’s now. He wants you to trust Him.
The effects of your suffering will linger, but His grace does not. There are immediate healing and long-term convalescence that bring a transformation that nobody else can provide. Ravi Zacharias said it’s true, and so do I. Only the gospel can take what people meant for evil and turn it into a good thing (Genesis 50:20). It never occurred to me that the Lord was using my father’s evilness to drive me to the perfect Father. That can be your story, too.
I’m speaking of imperfection and how God can turn any horrible narrative into a redemptive story. You could not have a redemptive story if there were no tragic stories. This truth applies to the victims of sin as well as those who were on the “sin-giving side” of the relationship, which all parents are. None of us parented perfectly.
The problem for some parents is that they, too, have a hard time accepting the truth claims of the gospel. They will tell you that God forgives all sin, even theirs. But they live with a pang of low-grade guilt as they punish themselves for their parenting of their kids.
They live in this perpetual mental chamber that suggests to them what they “should have” or “could have” done differently. Nobody argues the point that we could have done it better, but that is not the real issue. Will you find rest in the transformative hope of the gospel? Do you believe that God cannot redeem your mistakes?
If the Lord has brought you to a place of realizing your mistakes as He did with Ravi’s dad, you can similarly start your path to redemption. “Will you forgive me” is one of the most important questions you’ll ever ask anyone. The reason you want to do this is that it’s right, not because it’s a parental strategy to win your child back.
Even in our repentance, we can weave our agendas into our strategies. You’re not looking for results as the main thing. You want a heart that is right with the Lord regardless of the outcome. If the good Lord chooses to grant repentance to your child, praise His name. But if He does not, praise His name (Job 1:20-22).
It would be exceptional for two people to repent at the same time. What the Lord is doing in your heart is unique to you, not your child. The same goes for the kid: maybe the Lord is softening your heart toward your parent. Don’t expect your parent to be in a similar place as you. Let Him prepare you for your future regardless of what anyone else does.