Friday, November 19, 2004

Parent and Child Stuff

For all his other good qualities, I’m not impressed with David as a father. Like several other Bible dads, he seemed unwilling to deal with unruly tendencies in his kids and when confronted with the results of their sin, opted for denial instead of confrontation.

Take, for example, the time his son Amnon after sickening himself with lust for his sister Tamar, devised a way to get her by herself, raped her, then compounded his sin by rejecting her and ordering her out (2 Samuel 13).

Tamar was Absolom’s sister. When she came from Amnon’s quarters, wailing and in despair, her virginal robes torn, Absalom consoled her and told her it was no big deal. But he didn’t forget.

David heard about it too. The Bible says "...he was furious..." (2 Samuel 13:21). I’m wondering if Absolom didn’t hold himself back from avenging Tamar, thinking David would discipline his son Amnon. But David’s fury led to nothing.

Absalom bided his time (two years). When it became clear David would do nothing, Absalom invited all his brothers to a sheep shearing party, got them drunk, then had his men single out and kill Amnon. Of course, this led to a deepened family rift as the now-outcast Absalom fled to Geshur.

He stayed in Geshur for three years. David got over Amnon’s death. He missed Absalom - but couldn’t bring himself to recall him. Finally Joab, his army chief of staff, seeing David’s despair, convinced David to invite Absalom back to Jerusalem.

Absalom came home but David never sent for him. Another two years passed. Absalom tried to get an audience with Joab to intervene on his behalf with the king but now not even Joab would give him the time of day. Finally, in desperation, Absalom set fire to Joab’s field. That brought him to the house and soon after that David called Absalom in for an audience, "And the king kissed Absalom" (2 Samuel 14:33). But, as the unfolding story proves (2 Samuel 15-18), David and Absalom’s relationship was never restored.

Some things I can learn from this:
1. In some ways we are like God to our children. I think children have a right to expect Christian parents to model God’s fairness and righteousness, even if in the implementing of it, we have to make hard decisions. I think when David failed Absalom (and Tamar and Amnon) in this way, he altered their concept of God.

In that department, perhaps David expected Absalom to be more like himself - completely dependent on God to fight for him, as David had been with Saul. And I do believe that this incident may have been Absalom’s test which, if he had passed, God would have avenged Tamar in some other way. Whatever, I don’t think that excused David from avoiding his duty to model God’s fairness and justice to his children.

2. I need to beware of the temptation to use emotional manipulation as a punishment.

I wonder, what motivated David to avoid and ignore Absalom all those years. Did he perhaps think that by accepting Absalom into the family again, he was condoning his action? Did Absalom’s presence make him feel guilty by reminding him of his own negligence in dealing with the Amnon, Tamar situation? Though he couldn’t rightfully make Absalom pay for Amnon’s death, it seems the silent treatment was at least in part David’s way of punishing Absalom for Amnon’s death.

Ways I can punish emotionally are not speaking, favoring one child over another, being inconsistent in my responses (e.g. bugged by something one day, ignoring it the next, blowing up over it on a third), ignoring conflict between kids (some conflicts - others are best resolved between kids without my intervention). Rather than manipulating in this way, or being passive and avoiding the situation in the hope it will go away, how much better to do the hard thing and confront, discuss, discover and apply principles of justice, truth, mercy, love, forgiveness etc. etc. and work the whole thing out.

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