In one of his journal entries, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the significance the family plays in the lives of the children of believers. In a section entitled, “The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned,” Kierkegaard wrote:
The greatest danger is not that his father or tutor should be a free-thinker, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in his being a pious, God-fearing man, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep in his soul there lies hidden an unrest which, consequently, not even the fear of God and piety could calm. The danger is that the child in this situation is almost provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love.
Following this, I read a couple of interesting sentences from the well-known theologian Sinclair Ferguson, where he said:
We cannot hide what we really believe God is like. Our personal disposition is an unending expression of our understanding of and trust in his character. How we live, how we respond to challenges, crises and trials, reveals what we really believe about God, what we really think “deep down” about him.
Then I started to think about some of the Christians I’ve come in contact with throughout my life. And then I considered my own behavior and what it might reveal about God. And then I ponder what my behavior is instilling in my children.
Generally it seems true that what a person believes about God is expressed in their behavior. Those who believe God is gracious and forgiving tend to be gracious and forgiving. In contrast, those who are stern, critical, overly judgmental, and plain old unhappy, tend to view God as harsh, unloving, and unkind. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but as I’ve gotten to know people, and have been privileged to hear their stories, when their defenses come down, those who are unhappy and angry seem to have a sub-biblical vision of God.
When I look back over my life and think of the various seasons God has taken me through, I am embarrassed about my past behavior. I don’t think my behavior rightly expressed the joy, love, and grace of God. Thankfully, a number of years ago God brought me to the end of myself. During that time, God met me in my hour of need, and it was in that instance that God’s love was made real to me in a way it previously had not been.
As I think about what my behavior says to my children, I am reminded that, with our children, more is “caught” than “taught.” I can teach my children about God, Jesus, and the Bible all I want. I can teach them about how we shouldn’t worry and judge others; I can teach them about love, forgiveness, and grace. I can say that attending church, reading the Bible, giving, and showing hospitality is important, but if my actions say otherwise, it’s all hot air. Our children (and all human beings) are more than brains on a stick. We have imaginations that need to be captured by God’s majestic grace. We have affections that need to be stirred by the beauty of Christ and the life he calls us to live. None of this happens over night. We need to put practices into place that lead to new patterns of living, issuing forth in new habits that permanently shape and form our lives.
In so doing, I suspect that our character will begin to change. Our habits shape and form the type of people we become. As we make space in our lives to digest God’s Word through personal Bible reading and church attendance, as well as set aside time to meditate on what we’ve read and heard, we trust that the fruit of the Spirit will evidence itself in our lives in practical ways.