Marriage in Honor - Dr. W.G. de Vries
|Dr. W.G. de Vries (1926-2006) wasa minister in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.He received his doctorate from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen.He was also editor of Petahja, a monthly publication for the Reformed Men's Societies in the Netherlands.|
We have noted that the relationships between generations may be strained. Parents may have problems bringing up their children. The problems are not theoretical, to be solved by the consultation of pedagogical books. Usually, behind problems of child rearing lies a communication break between the parents or between parents and children.
Seeing their parents treat each other in a loving, Christian way molds the children. Parents must also treat their children in this manner, giving them time and attention as they maintain discipline in love. Parents must be willing to learn, even from the comments of little children. Small children can sometimes cause parents to think: "Who is bringing up whom?" The education of children calls for flexible interaction. What parents do not learn from their mistakes?
But as children grow they realize more and more that the world around them does not always accept what they have learned at home. In addition, the world changes so rapidly that it is hard to take it all in. Parents can't seem to keep up. A tension develops between what is normative and what one sees happening. Young people are quick to point out that their parents are "not with it" and "behind the times."
We must make a proper distinction here. In certain areas parents must honestly dare to acknowledge that they do not know everything. However, those who call it old-fashioned and behind the times to use the Bible as measuring rod, must certainly be contradicted. Because the human heart is evil from its youth on, young people tend to resist guidance and scornfully use the word "conservative." That is why talking together is necessary.
The clichi, "because I say so," cannot be used with adolescents. Questions and problems must be discussed. When there is scarcely time to eat together anymore, talking together is disappearing as well. Given a chance, children will mention what they have heard in school, on the street, in other families, and from friends. Meal time communion must be preserved as a discussion communion. Immature opinions must not simply be callously dismissed, but should be discussed so that children have a chance to grow. Young people must be able to fall back on the family. The family must be companionable in the literal sense of the word. Traditions-for birthdays, mealtimes, holidays, and Sundays-help develop companionship and stability. These traditions will return later when young people build families of their own.
Slowly but surely the time will come when the young person will free himself from the confinement of the family. He will want to stand on his own two feet. This often begins with a reaction against the family, including strong criticism of many things. Parents must not immediately be upset by this. After renouncing many "personal" things, the young person often develops a new and more conscious appreciation for them later, perhaps reviving them in their own families.
When older children leave home and rent an apartment, the relationship between parents and children often improves. Home is appreciated more than before. Even holidays away from home can lead to a new appreciation of home. Experiencing something new makes being home enjoyable again.
Today we own more goods than ever before. Our access to the world brings dangers with it, but at the same time, it allows us to discuss our values in life. Bringing up children means teaching them to be independent; therefore we should value opportunities to help them learn to see with their own eyes and as Christians consciously choose their way.
The generation gap in a family may also result from the parents' unconscious desire to keep their children with them. Older children feel as if they are being guarded, while parents feel pushed aside, and the atmosphere becomes tense. Raising children entails many dangers and risks, perhaps more so today than ever, but we cannot avoid them by making the family a snug, isolated unit. Neither can we save it by simply throwing open the doors and allowing everything without criticism.
Parents must keep in mind that there comes a time when young people will leave home to become independent and build families of their own. Certainly there will be tension, some of it due to young people's selfwilledness and some stemming from the parents' rigid attitude. But we, not fate nor the law of nature, will influence the way our families will be. It is important for parents and young people to remember that God has created all things beautiful in their various seasons. Young people should listen to their elders, while older people can learn from the younger ones.
If, however, the older generation spends its evenings in front of the television set and the younger ones take to the streets because of an unpleasant home atmosphere, then the parents are to blame. No one knows whether the biggest problem today is young people who rebel or parents who take life easy and please themselves.
The problems of the prosperous family have already been discussed. Parents who have lived in frugal times ask despairingly whether prosperity is good for the family. Young people who have known nothing but prosperity think that having many things -motorcycles, radios, stereos-is normal.
On the other hand, many young people are beginning to protest the streamlined, prosperous world around them. Boredom sets in when so many things can be obtained so easily. Young people can be bored in the same way a child is bored with too many expensive toys. It is essential that we handle material things properly in our families. We do not have to reject earthly prosperity as such; God has created the world and the fullness of it. But the world must not enslave us. We must use and govern things; they must not govern us.
We must consciously keep our distance from our consumer society. God asks that we choose discriminately and appreciate in a Christian manner what He gives us. Parents must teach this attitude to their children as well.
In a time when the objective of life is immediate satisfaction of desires, from food and sweets to sexual intercourse, moderation should grace our families. Families should seek to discuss with other families their similar problems, and should try to develop a common life style. After all, their children will be meeting each other in schools, societies, annual meetings, and school evenings.
Parents should also teach the younger generation that it can be good not to satisfy all ones wishes so that more can be given to God's Kingdom and to those who are in need. Parents must not take part in the prosperity cult. They must not get involved in the competition of status symbols.
Likewise, young people must not simply chase every new .sound and hail each new look that appears. If they want so badly to be open, they must also be open to those with more experience and training in the knowledge of God's Word. After all, we become adults only when we learn to know life as God has created it and as He restores it. Maturity is not only a question of age. Better a wise youth than a foolish old king, Scripture says.
Parents do not always love each other. In some homes there is no warm family atmosphere. Earning the money, the father is busy, busy, busy. He comes home only to "fill up" so to speak, and to sleep. Many mothers work to earn something extra so they will not miss their share of prosperity. Think of a country such as Sweden. During the day the children are lodged in day care homes and centers while both parents work. The family is degraded to a consumer community.
Other parents go out evening after evening leaving the children to their own devices. Young people loiter on the streets of the cities. Here, among the crowds of people, one can see their blank faces and their loneliness. From the evening chill of the deserted streets, these young people flee into pubs and their own hangouts. They live in rebellion against the adult world, against parents, educators, and those who are in authority.
The rebellion of today's youth is not a joyful abandon inspired by some new ideal or other. It is a peevish, pessimistic, and pitiful revolution. What despairing thoughts live in the hearts of these young people! How many suicides have been committed by high school students? They are without purpose in life. Dreariness covers their young lives like a fog.
Young people who do not have a family life remain lonely. Even youth clubs and friendships cannot substitute for a family. Their loneliness is the best soil for the development of gangs of youth bent on destruction, demonstrations, and sex.
Obsession with sex is usually a sign that young people have received little or no love in the family. Without being aware of it themselves, they are looking for the sheltering and protective love of the parental home. If that is lacking, they seek a poor substitute. The sadness of these young people's situation is that they really do not know what they are looking for.
According to God's ordinance, the family places the child within the loving care of a sheltering home. People who lacked this sheltering as youth are badly prepared for life. If the family falls apart and the mechanical organization of the state is man's only home, he is cast adrift. Russia has experienced this to its own detriment. When the Russian state wanted to dissolve the family by putting marriage, education, and the family under its jurisdiction, it found that chaos threatened. Today the Soviet state sees care for the family as one of its most important tasks.
Many other examples could be added to prove that no one can transgress God's ordinances without being punished. In spite of themselves, unbelievers are kept within the structures the Lord has made. How much more must believers who see their children as a gift from God reckon with God's promises and demands regarding family life.
The disruption of family life which has its repercussions in all of life - the Church, state, and society - originates in the neglect of the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." This neglect often begins with the parents. Our world is not unjustly typified as a "world without fathers. "
The task of father and mother is not fulfilled by the procreation of children; on the contrary, that is where it begins.
When God calls Himself the Father of His people, He does not only mean: "I have given you life," but also: "I care for you, I guide and protect you, and I bring you up for eternal life." So it is with fatherhood on earth, a faint reflection of God's fatherhood. Being a father means bringing up your child and caring for it and molding it for life. For that reason God gave the father and mother authority.
Today the authority of the father is gradually being weakened. Many people try to substitute companionship between parents and children for authority. This sort of companionship is supposed to resemble "having equal rights." This conflicts with Scripture which speaks in clear terms about relationships of authority between husband and wife and between parents and children: "The head of the woman is the man" (I Cor. I1:3); "Wives, submit yourself to your own husband" (Eph. 5:22); "Let the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Eph. 5: 33).
Scripture also says: "Children, obey your parents" (Eph. 6:1), and "Children obey your parents in all things" (Col. 3:20). The office bearers of the congregation must be men who rule "their children and their own houses well" (I Tim. 3:12).
just as he does in the entire marriage, the husband receives the position of providing leadership to his children. The more the husband is husband and the wife is wife, the more the children will benefit. Every widow knows how much a child misses when a father is missing. The crumbling of authority begins in those homes where the father no longer knows the place given him by God. The consequences of this for marriage have already been discussed.
Crumbling authority is almost ruinous for children. According to the Bible, the husband, as head of the family, must love his family in the same way that Christ loves the church. This love wields authority in the same way that Christ is Lord of His congregation- not as a tyrant, but as the One who is in charge and keeps the peace. The authority of the father over the family is disappearing more and more. Young people notice their parents' despair and helplessness as they try to bring up their children. Their authority is no longer convincing or commanding of respect.
There is good reason why Scripture calls the fifth command (to honor father and mother) "the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth" (Eph. 6:2). First is not used in the numeric sense; this commandment is first because of its primary significance as one of the most important commandments. That is why God has connected a promise to it. Wherever parental authority is not acknowledged-by parents themselves or by children-chaos looms. Wherever authority is not acknowledged, life cannot develop properly.
What if the government were to command and the people did not obey? Already when parents command, their children laugh; an employer issues an order, but the employees go on strike. The Church can admonish and exercise discipline, but Godgiven authority is ridiculed. Already life is disrupted. This can lead to the destruction of a country and its people.
Whoever sows the seed of disrespect for authority reaps a whirlwind of revolution and disruption. That is happening before our own eyes today. The trouble begins in families where the father is not the head of the family. The wider significance of the fifth commandment lies in the many more offices that are undermined when the authority of the parents no longer functions. If, from earliest childhood on, authority is not felt in the family, society itself will soon disintegrate.
Many parents try to establish a companionable relationship with their children. They encourage the children to call them by their first names and to treat them as their equals. But it is nonsense to suppose that young people benefit when a father's authority is replaced by a companionable relationship. God has not created people as shapeless masses but has given them the principles of good order. The nucleus of this order is the family; the head of the family is the father. Without authority there is no development, no unfolding of power directed to a certain goal. Spiritual chaos will prevail and destroy the personality of the youngster. Youth, which has no authority, avenges itself in rebellion.
Young people want guidance. But Proverbs 13:25 appears to be all too true among us: "He who spares the rod hates his son." A life without guidance collapses like a man without a backbone. "A family without a father is like a world without God," it has been remarked. A good father combines love with discipline. Love without discipline is sentimentality.
That is why the Scriptures say: "Do not spare your son the rod." Yet authority without love is dictatorship. About this Scriptures say: "Fathers do not provoke your children to anger" (Eph. 6:4).
Unfortunately, many parents indulge their children to avoid the tensions and conflicts which do arise in any upbringing. They resort to giving their children lots of pocket money and complete freedom. This supposedly modem upbringing is nothing more than allowing the children to run wild. Many spoil their children out of personal love of ease. The parent who truly loves also has the courage to suffer for the object of his love. In other words, one who really loves his child fears when the child does wrong and grieves when it has to be punished. To love requires exertion.
A person who does not know the reason for his own existence, lives uncertainly and cannot approach his child in complete confidence. Only the person who knows exactly the destination of his leadership will be able to guide people. Likewise, only God's Word can teach parents the meaning of bringing up their children to be people of God, equipped for His service. A child's entire upbringing must be directed toward that goal.
The basis for a Christian family is that children as well as the parents are included in God's congregation. They belong there. Children are addressed separately in the Bible: "Ye children . . . " They are addressed as heirs of God and of His covenant. And so as young heirs they lie in their cradles, begin to express themselves, learn to walk, go to school, and come to youth meetings.
The work of bringing up children must be founded on God's promises made to children. Their rights are not based on something in them, but on God's promises alone. These rich promises are personally directed to them.
God creates children with their own nature. Parents must realize this: God requires faith from an adult, but for a small, playing child, His promise is enough. The disciples of
Jesus misunderstood this. When some mothers brought their little children to Jesus, the disciples unkindly sent them back. Why should such little children, who could not yet believe, be allowed to come to Jesus? However, the Lord rebuked them He took the children in His arms and blessed them saying: "Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:13-15).
The second part of God's covenant, "that they live in new obedience," is the demand God will make upon them when they have grown up. Then it will be of the greatest importance. Then they will be saved only if they faithfully walk in the Lord's ways.
We must not think that religion just naturally grows as the mind, consciousness, and insight of our children grow. There is a certain doctrine that teaches that every man is by nature a religious being; by the laws of nature, faith and religion grow alongside his other capacities. Those who teach this do not ask about the truth of different religions but rather about the development of religious consciousness. They regard religion as a purely psychological phenomenon.
Faith never grows in our hearts by itself, however. If something is to grow, it must first be planted. Every impression that a child receives is like a seed that can root in his heart. Parents must be aware of what they sow, of what falls from their own hearts, for children are very receptive.
The church office-bearers must help ensure that the parents bring up their children in the doctrine of the Scriptures according to the Reformed Confessions. Those who argue that one must leave his children free to make their own choices mislead themselves.
In this connection someone has said cuttingly but correctly: "Do you also say that it is up to your child if he wants to be sick or healthy, illiterate or literate, steal or earn his daily bread honestly, live in sexual filth or be governed by morals? But it does not bother you in the least - you who have sworn to seek their good when your children read material, carry on conversations, or listen to speeches that slander or ignore the name of Christ" (K. J. Sietsma).
Upbringing must have direction.God's covenant and works are the guide. Parents who take the promise made at baptism seriously will look for Christian schools for their children, schools where God's Word is held in honor. They will send their offspring to catechism and faithfully take them to church. Whoever disparages the forming of habits, citing acting with conviction as an alternative, must remember that Christ Himself, "as His custom was, " regularly came to the temple. Good habits can be beneficial for the whole of life.
Furthermore, parents must teach their children to feel at home in the life of the church. They must involve them in its societies, must talk with them about its struggles and triumphs and its future, and must teach them to discern what is important in life.
The relationship between father and mother is tremendously important. Do their children grow up in an atmosphere of love because their parents' love is clearly visible? Is the home atmosphere abusive and snappish, full of grumbly language? One must remember that children notice quickly if the family relationships are not borne by faith or if the relationships between father and mother and friends and acquaintances do not display the characteristics of faith. A wedge will be driven between the words and the deeds of the parents. Children observe closely how the adults around them live. They listen to what is being discussed; they know where their parents' interests lie. And even though they may appear to be indifferent, older young people still watch and listen closely.
Whether one is always aware of it or not, sowing seed goes on from early morning until late at night. Will the seed be one of love and willingness to sacrifice or of slander and malice? Will it be noble-minded and possess the power of faith or will it be small and filled with egoism? Families can be nurseries of good or evil.
No, we are not looking for the ideal or perfect family. Very young children see their father as a hero, their mother as being perfect. When they grow up, they will see their parents' shortcomings. Graceful parents can admit when they are wrong and can demonstrate in the family their belief that the forgiveness of sins is the only way to salvation.
This will not decrease but increase their stature in their children's eyes.
We could continue in this vein because there is so much to be said. If God's covenant is the everyday climate in which parents live with their children, children will be protected from over-spirituality too. Parents will understand that the covenant receives children completely and will learn to trust their children as the Lord received them, as little children, not as little adults. If they fail to understand this they will continually be dismayed at the "low level" of their children's attention and faith. But then they will not have taken into consideration the laws of God regarding children's development.
One cannot expect the same maturity of faith in a child of twelve or thirteen as in an adult of forty. If children are healthy they are playful. As children they talk, think, and act like children. A boy romping outdoors is no further away from the Kingdom of God than someone engaged in Bible study.
Often a certain pietistic attitude isolates faith from human life. With this attitude parents become tense as they continually search to discover faith in the hearts of their children. Of course, believing fathers and mothers will consider faith to be the most important thing in their children's hearts. But they must not force it on their youngsters. Wellintended but foolishly presented little sermons can spoil much.
It can be discouraging when boys and girls appear to have no interest at all in matters of faith. At a certain age they can be so taken in by sports, games, hobbies, and friends, that nothing else seems to interest them. If ' that is the case, think of the parable of the sower. He slept, awoke, worked, and went to bed, and all the while the seeds germinated in the stillness and grew without his aid.
We must learn to exercise similar patience. As long as we faithfully sow, God will give the growth in the stillness, without our knowing how He does it. Parents must not give up too quickly if their children seem indifferent. Sometimes semblance just goes with their age. Especially in puberty, growing children do not know how to act. They appear in
different, ill-mannered, and clumsy as newborn foals trying to stand on their legs. Then comes the jump to adulthood, when they especially need the protection of a healthy family although they try to prove they can do without. During this time parents must exercise wisdom and tact; they must not blow up at everything nor be too critical. They must help their children by maintaining their house as a loving home.
We must not forget that children can be very shy toward their parents. They speak about the deepest feelings of their lives more easily with friends or teachers than with their own parents. Understanding this, a father and mother must not press or force their children into certain verbal commitments. This understanding is not to be confused with doing away with guidance and regular habits with respect to meals, prayer, and church attendance. Guidance must be firm here even if young people rebel. Later on they will thank their parents for firmness. One who leaves his children completely free has, in essence, abandoned them.
It is striking that the children of Israel who were less than twenty years old when the nation rebelled were allowed to enter the promised land, while their parents had to die. God apparently did not hold the children responsible for the unfaithful rejection of His promise. We may still regard those under twenty as children. They cannot yet be held fully responsible for their actions, even though the sense of responsibility must be taught from an early age.
We should not underestimate God's covenant faithfulness. In the Bible we read that God did not let go of the ten tribes of Israel even though they had established an idolatrous worship service. Through the service of Elijah and Elisha, He sought the children who had turned away from Him. He even says: "How can I give you up, 0 Ephraim! How can I hand you over, 0 Israel!'' (Hosea 11:8). We must not judge our children too quickly or press them or question their faith too soon. Parents must simply bring the Word and live in the strength of it as an example to them. After all, there is more in the hearts of children than we sometimes think.
"Sowing" must never be discontinued. Growing children need things with which to fill their lives. Even the very young child busies himself with his toys. When he starts school, he learns the letters of the alphabet, and he tries to read when he comes home. Parents should encourage this kind of activity and should help and stimulate the child.
A young child is not easily overworked. By keeping our children busy with various things early in life, we need not be afraid that we are robbing them of their carefree youth. On the contrary! Young people look for ways to exert themselves. They must learn to love doing something with their time. A parent's task is to guide the youngster into healthy activities. "The devil finds work for idle hands" is true for children no less than for adults.
The problem of many adolescents today is that their lives are empty. They have nothing to do. They are bored at home and out on the street. For lack of something better to do, they get into mischief which in turn gets out of hand. This can lead to trouble with the police and the law.
Behind their boredom lies a great shortcoming in their upbringing. Their parents left them to their own devices too early, reasoning that "children must not be kept tied to the apron strings. They must learn to be independent." But leaving them alone is not bringing them up to independence. Bringing them up to be independent includes teaching them responsibility. The so-called independence of children who have been let loose too early is more a matter of their running wild. Their lack of responsible independence shows itself in disorderly conduct.
During puberty children develop a certain self-respect which seems devoid of self-criticism. Actually, they gladly accept guidance without wanting to admit it. But the guidance given to children must not be too "childish." Unfortunately, today's adult world behaves very childishly. just think of mayors in full regalia officially meeting Santa Claus!
What kind of literature reaches the adolescent? Rightly it has been said that "people who are themselves not yet sufficiently balanced frequently write books to instruct others." Modem ideas are read and uncritically lapped up by young people even though some of the ideas are obviously imbalanced. A wise father or mother without much academic training or an experienced pastor is a much safer guide for young people than some writers currently being read by the younger generation.
Young people are open to everything that speaks to them. Naively uncritical, they are easily blinded by bogus beauty. Their inexperience limits their outlook. Someone once said that their "so-called criticism of what is oldfashioned- adults, conditions with which they are not satisfied, obligations imposed upon them -is all too often an alarming lack of criticism. Young people are heavily dependent on the ideas of others because they do not have opinions of their own and cannot resist the influence of their environment. "
However, it would seem that young people who accept novelties without criticism could also take over the traditions of their elders without criticism. The younger generation does not oppose tradition as such. It only seems to do so. Their opposition to tradition is not innate; it is taught them by a slightly older generation.
Think of the flood of popular quasi-scientific booklets which the layman cannot distinguish from scientifically responsible writing. Ideas and conjecture shoot up like poisonous mushrooms, fed by the remains of halfdigested knowledge. Young people not interested in this sort of literature find even more superficial books to read in order to stay "with it."
The ideas young people get are presented to them in tasteful literary packaging. When skillful authors display their own disharmony, daydreams, and perversities, how can people think this "literature" won't affect the young reader? Words work; the power of the word is unbelievably great for good and evil.
This daring literature is strongly magnetic. Young people like to identify with the hero of the story; after all, they enjoy the suspense of a good adventure. That is not wrong in itself. Young people should know that as adults no one is spared tension, that, in fact, many become so tense that they collapse in nervous breakdowns.
A tension-free youth does not prepare one for the tensions of the adult world. It has been correctly said: "Like the fighting a cat teaches her young, these practice fights remain within the boundaries of a game. That is how tension and conflict must be in the lives of young people."
The tensions of developing properly are also normal. Young people must concentrate on spiritual development as well as on physical development. Parents and educators must certainly give direction in this. They must lead their children on the path of good literature, so that eventually they will be able to distinguish between a book that is worth reading and one that is not.
in some high schools some books are compulsory which infect young people with the senselessness of life-withoutGod and with the perversities of people who have gone astray. We must not allow such literature to be put into the hands of our children. It will not only spoil their taste but will pollute their whole spirit and soul.
Today courageous, healthy adult intelligence is missing from life. This is reflected in young people. We see youth idolized in advertising, in radio and television, in magazine and newspapers. No wonder young people are conceited. Adults try everything to appear young. Now that all kinds of silly artificial means can be used to suggest eternal youth, young people feel themselves to be the radiant focus of all of life. Their conceit has many unpleasant consequences.
Thoughtless appreciation for youthfulness is a kind of infantilism. If grandfather can still cycle fifty kilometers he is admired, not because of his wisdom and experience, but because of his youthfulness. Real old age with its quiet wisdom is made to seem pathetic. Life is finished if you can no longer take an active part in these dynamic times. In all this, the youth considers himself to be the norm. He has the life which he feels is the envy of many older people.
For the sake of profit, industry and advertising keep things this way. We live in the "age of youth." Fashion, literature, music, and films all revolve around youth. Adults have sadly misled young people in this regard.
In these times when so many conflicts tear life apart, the church is not immune from tension. Members of families function in the church. Here too complaints are heard about a lack of understanding between generations. Young people often mistrust their elders, and the older people are annoyed with the younger ones. The words "old-fashioned" and "narrow-minded" are heard from the young people while the older people use "superficial" and "light-hearted" to describe the youth. How can this gulf be bridged?
Christian sobriety is needed; it believes and shows that Jesus Christ alone is the future of the church. The task of young people is not to reshape the church but to listen to God's Word. The task of the church is not to win young people but to teach and proclaim God's Word.
Our question is not: "What is youth and what are her rights?" but rather: "What is the congregation and what place do young people have in it?" Only in the congregation of Christ can a judgment about the congregation be made.
Parents would do well to teach their children what their place in the church is. Youth societies are a beautiful and essential aid in this respect. Do not underestimate their value, for they can be very formative. Here young people learn to speak, debate, think about questions, put something on paper, and become of age. People outside of the church also admit that young men's and young women's societies are of educational value.
The most important function of these societies is that here young people come of age as members of Christ's congregation and learn their responsibility towards God and man. The problem of the generations should be resolved in the congregation, for young people have no special prerogatives there. Like everyone else, they must listen to the Word and learn to live in accordance to God's laws.
Society work, just like everything done among the church's young people, is only possible because a young person can appeal to his baptism and can hear the Word which also speaks about youth. Think of Ecclesiastes 11: 9, 10: "Rejoice, 0 young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Remove vexation from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity."
According to this, young people may enjoy life; t hey may drink fully of it. Naturally, an unbridled enjoyment is not encouraged but rather the healthy joy of living as children of God. Parents must bring up their children to this end. The warning "Know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment, " encourages a reasonable joy, a joy that conforms to God's law. Enjoy yourself, the Bible says; enter life full of happiness, remembering that one day you will have to give account of what you have done with your time.
The horrible misunderstanding that believing in God means an unhappy existence without laughter or the joy of living must be dismissed. The opposite is true. joy can be appreciated as a gift of God. "It is God's gift to man that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil" (Ecc. 3:13).
That is why young people may drive sorrow from their hearts and try to avoid physical adversities. The prime of life is the time to enjoy it. Come, let them enjoy life, says the Preacher, for (and then comes the instruction) youth and childhood are vanity. The word used for childhood can be translated as the dawn of life-the early, beautiful beginning of life.
Doesn't a young person enter life full of idealism? A whole world opens up for the young life which still lies in the haze of early morning. There is so much to be discovered, enjoyed and examined! Time passes so quickly! Youth and childhood are vanity; literally they are as a gust of wind, a little wind. One sigh and the time is past; "We fly away" (Ps. 90:10).
This is the wisdom of life which the Bible teaches the youth of the church. Youth is the time for the active building of life. God has put seat into young hearts. Let older people be careful not to mistake the seat of living for flightiness or carelessness.
But in their seat young people should not forget what else the Preacher says: "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them' " (Ecc. 12: 1). If the years of our youth are the best of our lives, let us remember our Creator with joy.
Parents sometimes hear from their children: "Now that I am still young, I can enjoy life and I'll think about God and religion later on." This is actually a very miserable attitude to life. How terribly sad to stagger to God when the last years of one's life have been spent going downhill.
There is no denying that many young people are converted at a later stage in life nor that their conversion is genuine, but conversion cannot deliberately happen this way. God rejoices to see spirited young people, full of zest for life, consciously and voluntarily say: "I enjoy life, but I do that with deep gratitude towards my Creator and Redeemer." The world lies open to them, and it is the world of their God. That is how life should be. Certainly some are saved in the nick of time, like the murderer on the cross. But it is not a pleasant thing to be snatched like a brand from the fire.
The entire youth problem is also a problem of the older people. Many miserable older people have lost the zeal of faith. Life has made them cynical; they are no longer aflame for their God, and they snuggle down comfortably to become stumbling blocks for young people.
This is not to idealize youth. Genesis 8:21 does not state for nothing: "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." In this evil all people share. Actually there is no "generation" problem; there is only the problem of everyone's guilty heart.
In struggling with this problem, young and old alike must join forces. If there is a gap, it is caused by a lack of faith, hope, and love on both sides. Solving the problems of up bringing begins with the wisdom which comes from above.
A true unity between parents and children, between young and old people is to be found in the church that preserves the Word of God. Then older people will not begrudge young people their joy in life, for it is a fruit of the cross, a fruit of the work of Him who from His youth had to suffer like no one else so that Christian young people would be able to rejoice as no other young people can.
Believing young people will let themselves be admonished by the older ones to find the basis of their happiness in Christ, their Creator. Together, old and young people will concentrate on the salvation that never perishes. In that way, the purpose of every Christian upbringing will be achieved.