Summary: If our children are going to recognize God as loving and forgiving, they must see us practicing an expression and an experience of forgiveness ourselves.
What Parents Owe Their Children:
A Familiarity with Forgiveness
As a parent, one of the most worrisome thoughts I’ve ever heard is this: As my children grow up and try to figure out who this mysterious person called “God” is, they will in large part base their impressions of who God is on who I am. Children inevitably will derive much of there, at least initial, view of God from the character, the identity and the morality they see in their parents.
That’s kind of frightening isn’t it?
But that’s why we’ve been talking about what parents owe their children. I want my children to see God as having integrity – so I am on a quest for His character. I want my children to see God as teaching us how to live the best life possible, so I life my life a course of discipline. I am confident that God grows each of us through relationships, so I demonstrate for my family a pattern of friendship. I want my children to discover the generosity of God, so I live with an attitude of gratitude. I know that God is tenderhearted and affectionate towards all of humanity, so I live a lifestyle of love.
And this morning, I want to talk with you about one more thing that I am confident each of us want to make obvious to our children. One of the most central strands of truth woven throughout the Christian Scriptures is the presence and power of God’s forgiveness. If I am going to pass to my children and to future generations anything about the character, nature and make-up of God, I must make sure they see and hear in my life a familiarity with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of those of those words that we hear often, say frequently but seem to understand or practice very little.
We talk about forgiveness a lot. But we know very little of it. We have heard the offer so often that we have lost the wonder of it. German scholar Helmut Thielicke said, "It can be the death of our faith if we forget that [forgiveness] is literally a miracle." This quote is of incredible importance. What kind of Christianity can we claim to practice… Indeed of what worth is the Christian faith at all when it is not centered entirely on forgiveness? What kind of church are we if we aren’t specialists in the practice of forgiveness? What kind of parent am I if my children don’t see in me a familiarness with the experience and offering of forgiveness?
As we talk about forgiveness, please don’t confuse it with its secular cousin: tolerance. Tolerance is a valuable trait to practice in the community, in the church and in the workplace. Tolerance makes allowances for those who are different from me; tolerance makes allowances for the miscommunications, the wrong assumptions, the mistakes and struggles associated with being in relationships with another human being.
But where tolerance makes allowances, forgiveness releases a legitimate debt. Forgiveness is the pardoning of a crime someone has perpetrated; forgiveness is the discharging of a balance due me in a relationship, in a moment, in a tragedy. Forgiveness says, I will not try to collect this debt you owe me, I will not look for you to make things right, I will not ask you for some reimbursement for what I am owed. Forgiveness is the release of a legitimate debt.
And often, I’m afraid we adults underestimate the challenges, the difficulties and the effort required in forgiveness. This is not some easy character trait you can put on like you would a warm sweater or your old winter snow boots.
Forgiveness is a bear. Forgiveness requires of us a selflessness and an amount of energy and effort which we are often slow to offer. And so there are a number of points in our lives where forgiveness is not so familiar.
There is a hurt still unanswered from our past. There is a relationship still broken from days gone by. There is a sin we are still quite sure we’re going to have to answer for.
And trust me, your children will pick up on this. Long before you know it, your children will know where the points are in your life where you are not yet familiar with forgiveness. They’ll notice which stories you won’t tell them. They’ll know what subjects or which people not to bring up around Mom or Dad. They’ll see which subjects you avoid, which topics you won’t talk about which name you just gloss over or ignore.
There’s no hiding this stuff. And moreover, if our children learn about God’s forgiving nature from us, what exactly are they learning? What are they learning from your experiences and expressions of forgiveness? Let’s talk about both of those: Our experience of forgiveness and our expression of forgiveness.