The Bible is full of advice on child-rearing. Experts in the field have written hundreds of books and I hate to even delve into this area.
Admittedly what I will be sharing doesn’t receive the same press as many popular theories, nevertheless it may help your child develop a proper Biblical view of our Heavenly Father – that God loves us and only has our best interests at heart.
To understand this principle, we must look at Genesis 1: 26, where God says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
The word ‘image’ (Hebrew tselem) means to be a representative figure. It is used throughout the Old Testament to describe idols or as the King James version quaintly called them ‘graven images’ (cf. Isaiah 45:20).
This means humans functioned as idols of God, not those cut from stone or hewed from wood.
But the choice of “tselem” is curious because it begs the question — who were men and women supposed to represent God to? If we are all created in God’s image, it would be fruitless representing God to each other.
I believe God intended men and women to be representative — or an idol — of what God was like to our children. By interacting with their parents, children gained an understanding of who God was.
This would be a natural bridge leading children into a personal relationship with their true spiritual Father as they grew older.
A study reported in the Journal of Scientific Study on Religion came to the same conclusion. It showed that a child’s perception of God virtually patterned the perceptions they had of their mother and father.
It is a terrifying prospect for parents that our behavior will somehow shape a child’s perception of God. But this was the pattern God set at creation.
But then came man’s catastrophic fall into sin.
In a fleeting moment, this idol — intended to represent God in His purest form — was horribly scarred and disfigured.
Sin in its various forms – anger, lust, rebellion, pride, fear, deceit etc – became the dominant characteristic of parents and paved the way for children to develop a flawed perception of what God was really like.
Several years ago, a friend was telling me about the interesting conversations he was having with an atheist friend. I told him it wasn’t uncommon for atheists to have troubled relationships with their fathers. He said, “Oh, he hates his father.”
So how do we counter this flawed perception of God?
The answer is simple: you must admit your spiritual flaws by apologizing to your children when you sin against them. When we lose our temper, rush to judgment, are overly critical or too harsh – the list is endless — we need to ask our children to forgive us.
This simple act shows them we have flaws and separates us from our Heavenly Father. While God is perfect, parents are not and an apology reveals that.
I am not suggesting we ask forgiveness for every mistake, but there are major ones that may need to be addressed.
I remember taking my daughter out for driving lessons. I was trying to have her do a particular maneuver and for whatever reason she misunderstood, froze and refused to do it. In one of my finer moments as a dad driving instructor I totally lost it.
After, I knew I needed to apologize. I told her I was wrong and asked her to forgive me. But I made a distinction, I was not apologizing for what I said, but how I said it.
Though children do not realize their perception of God is being formed by their parents, apologies at the right time can help hinder wrong perceptions from forming in a child’s minds about their heavenly Father.
Importantly, it is never too late to ask for forgiveness. Even if your child is grown, married and with children of their own, you can still make amends. Such apologies can break down unseen barriers hindering your grown child’s relationship with God. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and He will bring to remembrance areas you need to resolve.
The second thing you can do is put God first, but perhaps not in the way you may think. When our son was about six, I sensed God prompting me to tell him that God loved him more than I ever could. I remember how I struggled to say that as I felt it somehow diminished my love for my son.
But I obeyed God and said that to him as I prayed for him before he went to sleep. Nothing significant happened and I wasn’t even sure he understood what I said.
But a few days later, my wife told me what our son had just told her. He said God loved him, more than even his dad.
And that is the truth.