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Raising a Godly Generation

by Wong Fong Yang

During my trip to South Africa four years ago, I came across a newspaper report featuring the wayward lifestyle of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s son. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has long been an outstanding church leader in South Africa. He is respected for his intellectual depth and deep spirituality. His theology is inseparable from his political life, and he persistently spoke against the apartheid policy. His son, however, turned out to be a playboy. Alcohol and illicit sex were part of his staple diet.

After reading the report, I was left with some nagging questions that trouble me even today. What happened to Archbishop Tutu’s son? Was he not brought up by godly parents? How had the church influenced his spirituality? What went wrong? I kept the newspaper clipping as a reminder that spiritual leaders cannot presume that their children will naturally grow up to be godly.

Like most parents, Moses as a leader was concerned for the new generation of Israelites who were about to enter uncharted territory. He knew that grave dangers lurked at every corner of the land: the Canaanite cultures were pluralistic, sensual and violent. Rather than insulating the Israelites from the godless cultures, Moses took a proactive stance. He called the entire covenant community to pay attention to God. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength.” (v.4). The call was made to the entire community, not just fathers and mothers. All of God’s people must acknowledge that the Lord is the one and only true God, and they must love Him totally (v.4). Loving God involves the will (heart), the emotion (soul), as well as action (might). This love must be manifested in the daily life of the entire covenant community (v.4). When children see that everyone in the community loves God wholeheartedly in the course of everyday life, they are most likely to love him too. The primary task of the covenant community is to put God first in their lives. They must not have any other gods besides Him.

Raising a godly generation in the midst of a godless society is a challenging task. While the responsibility of nurturing godly children falls primarily on parents, it is not confined to them. The entire covenant community is involved as well. Besides cultivating lifelong habits of loving God, God’s Word must be central in all we say and do (vv.6-9). “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them…” (vv.6-9). Notice the sequence .God’s commandments must be central in the lives of fathers and mothers first before they are taught to the children. If parents cannot embody their faith and fail to transmit it to their children, the very existence of the covenant community is in jeopardy. Fathers and mothers are to seize every opportunity to instruct their children in God’s Word, to help them develop a biblical mindset. When God’s Word is central in community and family life, we are a step closer to raising a godly and discerning generation.

Moses knew that God intended to bless the covenant community richly- with large, fine cities, houses full of good things, hewn cisterns, vineyards and olive groves. God’s grace is clear from the emphasis that these blessings are not the result of Israel’s arduous labours- they are gifts from God (vv.10-11). Moses warned the people not to forget God. “When the Lord your God brings you into the land… a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant- then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord…” (vv.10-12). Many people cannot handle success. When they become prosperous, they turn away from God. They think that they have made it in life through their own ability (Deuteronomy 8:14, 18-19). We need to teach our children the theology of blessing so that they do not become godless. They must learn to be grateful to God for the successes they enjoy and never forget the source of their blessings.

It is well known that when children are young, they live on ‘borrowed’ faith, especially that of their parents, because they have not yet developed the capacity to grasp spiritual truths independently. Moses instructed the community to help their children own the faith by keeping the testimony of God alive. “In the future when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him…” (vv.20-24). Children are inquisitive. They will ask questions about the meaning of God’s commandments, why God wants us to put Him first, what is the basis of our love for God, and so on. They ask not simply to find out what God’s rules and regulations are but to understand why they are kept. As we give them sound reasons for our beliefs and actions, they will come to own the faith for themselves. The most effective way is to tell them stories of God’s goodness to the community. Every covenant community has a unique collective experience of God. Just as the Israelite community could look back to God’s act of deliverance in their history, each family has its own redemptive story to tell. Telling the stories helps the present generation to be connected to the past, and brings the past into the present. Thus, successive generations learn afresh what it means to love God wholeheartedly.

We want our children to do well in life. Blessed are the children who grow up in a home devoted to God’s purposes, with fathers and mothers who fulfil their roles, first of all, by loving the Lord their God with all their hearts and souls and might; and then, helping their children to cultivate the same love for God. Blessed are the children who grow up in a church community which collectively nurtures them spiritually. It is a covenant community which is attentive to God, a community that keeps God’s word central in every aspect of their lives. It is also a grateful community, one that keeps the testimony of God alive and passes it on to the next generation.