My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
As mentioned in the study notes of the Hebrew Greek Study Bible, these instructions are “addressed to the young to warn them of dangers that they, by reason of their inexperience, know nothing about. [T]he emphasis is upon training in the home as a means of moral protection. It will prepare the young person against temptations from immoral people and the end which results.”
But the question is, what kind of instruction does any given father give? And what kind of law does any given mother lay down in her household? Are they gold chains around the necks of their children or are they millstones?
King Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, consistently uses the words “wisdom”, “knowledge”, and “understanding”, insisting that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of such wisdom. He was, undoubtedly, not only lecturing his son (and, by implication, future generations) how to live, but was providing an example for him and for us all to follow.
Children who hear godly instruction from their fathers and godly law from their mothers are being taught how to seek knowledge and wisdom. They fear the Lord and they trust him to direct their paths. Godly parents teach honesty, kindness, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, modesty, and how to develop a gentle and quiet spirit.
Such is not often the case among residents of the Bluff. We have found that parents have, themselves, been raised in loud, messy, chaotic homes in which a spirit of anger pervades, voices are constantly raised, children are yelled at, and there is no useful discipline. Occasionally there is also serious abuse, even rape by a family member, which happened to one lady we know when she was ten years old. In many ways these women are victims of the circumstances in which they were raised and they do not know any better. So their children tend to be incorrigible, loud, inconsiderate; they often dress immodestly, steal, show no gratitude and almost never do as they are told.
Besides drug and alcohol abuse the most prominent and obvious problem in the Bluff is sexual sin. The concept of staying celibate before marriage is essentially unknown. When one of the ladies in the fellowship resolved to break out of her immoral lifestyle, she began to be taunted by neighbours who accused her of being a lesbian.
When I have mentioned that we know a number of young people who kept themselves pure before marriage and take seriously their vows to remain faithful to each other until death, I am greeted with wide, uncomprehending eyes, and utterances of disbelief. When one of the members of our Board of Advisors was taking two local men home, he happened to mention that he had been married for 43 years, and the two men, in concert, said “to the same woman?” When the reply was in the affirmative, the men were genuinely shocked.
This situation impacts the notion of fatherhood in our ministry area. To be sure, there are fathers of a sort―the kind for which having a child is merely the unintended consequence of lust and conquest. Very rarely does the arrival of a baby result in any kind of concern for the future of the mother or the child. Or, heaven forbid, giving up one’s current lifestyle, finding a job and raising a family.
Here are a few examples of fatherhood in the Bluff:
- One of the ladies to whom we minister suffers from serious health issues. She had a man living with her who was the father of one of her two children and who, for a while, brought a mistress into the home, even though the two children were also living there. He also stole her Social Security Disability income.
- While we were still meeting on the steps of the old church building, a prayer request was received for an eighteen year old young man who was very thin and sickly and was now in hospital with two gunshot wounds he had received the previous week. He had already fathered two children.
- One day when a young teenage boy who attended regularly was missing from the Bible study that Pastor Frank was conducting, the mother told us that his step-father had taken him into the city to teach him how to hustle (i.e., how to get stuff without having to pay for it though not necessarily stealing). Thankfully the man is now out of the area and the young man is nineteen, doing very well, training for a job, and recently told his mother that he wants to provide for a real family one day and stay pure for marriage.
Here are a couple of examples of motherhood in the Bluff:
- From May until just recently, the other half of the duplex which serves as our church building housed five adults and eleven children. Some of these children responded to several months of Sunday School and church attendance with improved behavior. Most, however, did not. On one occasion one of these children stole chewing gum out of the purse of one of our Sunday School teachers and ran with it towards her home. The teacher ran after her and told the mother what had happened. The mother rebuked the child―not by telling her that it was wrong to steal, but that she hadn’t been sneaky enough.
- The step-mother of one thirteen year old boy who lived with his father and step-mother in a rooming house near our meeting place would sell herself on the streets on a regular basis. The boy had come to Vacation Bible School in the summer and since then had seemed to enjoy coming regularly to Sunday School and the service, sometimes taking good sermon notes. But it was obvious, although not surprising, that he had a total disrespect for women.
Over the years I have heard some excellent sermons in which young people are admonished to learn from their parents. But these sermons are being preached in contexts in which parents take seriously the admonitions of King Solomon. For obvious reasons, preaching such a sermon in the Bluff and telling young people to learn from their parents would be inappropriate when these parents are teaching contrary to the will of God.
However, the children who attend our fellowship regularly are hearing and, in some cases, memorizing the catechism and Scripture verses. They also see the modeling of faithfulness by our helpers and other Christian families who attend occasionally. They hear sermons which have application to their lives, and we can only pray that, by God’s grace, the messages will take root in their young hearts even if we are not privileged to see the fruit ourselves.
In addition, our Sunday School teachers are doing a wonderful job teaching basic Christian doctrines and how to apply them in ways that, in a Christian home, would be reinforced by the parents. Sadly, for many of the children to whom we minister, not only is the Biblical message not upheld in the home, but in many ways it is undermined.
And so it continues. One generation after another, unless and until the Lord intervenes. May He use Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship to bring wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to the children and the parents, that they may be able to enjoy a life of dignity and decency in Christ.