Honoring an Abusive Parent
The commandment says to honor your parents, not obey your parents

Sally asks: Why must I honor an abusive parent? My father is a scoundrel. Why should I have to honor him. He does not deserve it. Can I do anything to honor him without actually seeing him? I don't want to talk to him.
Question about A Personal Question: My family and friends
Motivation - Guidance: Making a decision; Trouble: Personal crisis
Bible view - Ancient literature - [question 9, Sunday, 03-Jul-2011]

Honor your Mother and Father

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
- Exodus 20:12 [KJV]

Sally is wrestling with a sharp dilemna. On one side there is the clear commandment to honor her parents. On the other side there is an abusive father. Does the Bible have a remedy for this situation? The answer is yes, but it takes some thought and some action on Sally's part.

The fifth commandment appears in the box at the right. Here is the same verse in a few other translations:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. [NASB]

Respect your father and mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you. [GNB]

Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. [JPS]

The commandment is to honor (or respect) your parents. There are no qualifications given. It does not say to honor your parents if they are good people, if you like them, or if they honor you. It simply says to honor your parents, period.

Is this important? The commandment underscores its importance by annexing a promise: that your days may be long in the land. This is not always seen in the life of the individual, but the commandment is addressed to the individual as a member of society. The home is infinitely more important than schools, professions, or politics. Child-parent respect is the ground of permanence and prosperity; lack of filial respect is moral suicide for any nation, culture, or society.

The Old Testament portrays God as a loving father. He is a God full of tenderness, compassion, protection and provision for His children, and He is also a God who requires obedience and sacrifice, with strong tough love discipline.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
- Psalms 103:13 [KJV]

and again, in the OT,

For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
- Proverbs 3:12 [KJV]

In the New Testament, access and intimacy is added to the loving father God of the Old Testament.

When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
- Luke 11:2 [KJV]

Sadly, it is not always easy to honor earthly parents. This world is under a curse, the curse of sin. Evil is present, and evil can corrupt even well-intentioned parents. God is a model father, but human fathers fall short, and so, of course, do human mothers.

Honor, Not Obey

Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
- Colossians 3:20ff [NASB]

To honor one's parents is not necessarily to obey one's parents. There is a big difference. The commandment says to honor (or respect) your parents. It does not say to obey your parents.

We come into the world as helpless, dependent children, and throughout childhood, we are bound to obey our parents. To disobey brings great hardship. There are specific instructions in the New Testament about the parent-child relationship. The model is obedience and love, as summarized in Colossians 3:20 (box at right). But things are different in adulthood. The Bible encourages, no, the Bible requires, a clean break from your parents as you become independent and able to take care of yourself:

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
- 1 Corinthians 13:11 [NASB]

For married people, the command to break away comes early in Genesis:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
- Genesis 2:24 [KJV]

So respect, not obedience, is required of adult children. Here are some examples of things Sally can do to honor (respect) her abusive Dad:

  • Distance herself, if not physically, emotionally, from her Dad
  • Speak positively, or neutral, of him, not negatively
  • Never talk or act behind his back
  • As occasions arise, take small positive actions on his behalf
  • Make attempts to re-instate communications with him

At minimum, this requires no direct action on Sally's part, only restraint. At maximum, small, positive steps can be tried. The point is to refrain from all negativity in thought, word, and deed. Such restraint is actually an honor for a parent who abuses children. There is never room for revenge in God's economy. Revenge is God's business and, by extension, the jurisdiction of civil authorities. See Romans chapter 13.

Biblical Forgiveness

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
- Romans 8:5ff [KJV]

Even the passive steps outlined above may be too much for Sally. Her Dad's abuse may be so grevious that simply refraining from negative thoughts, words, and deeds becomes an impossible hill to climb. If this is the case, the Bible has a solution: forgiveness. Sally should forgive her Dad.

In the New Testament, forgiveness between two people is primarily for the benefit of the forgiver, not the forgiven. Forgiveness does not necessarily deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it does not minimize or justify the wrong. Forgiving is different than dismissing the charges. You can forgive a person without excusing his or her action against you. The best way to do this is to talk to God about it.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. [Matthew 6:6, KJV]

Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. [Isaiah 26:20]

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven [Luke 6:37, KJV]

by Paul Richards

Fri, 21-Jul-2017 22:49:35 GMT, unknown: 651117 ABo6W6XdtbAps