The Reformation Herald Online Edition

The Purifying of God's Remnant Church

Bridging the Generation Gap
Bridging the Generation Gap
Alfons Balbach

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5, 6).

It has been observed that in many families, parents and children have virtually become strangers to one another. Unfortunately this is true even among the people of God. Many a father and mother, having to tackle this problem in their own home, ask: What can be done about it?


I cannot help thinking of a father and mother who were often wondering why their sons were helpless delinquents, causing them so much shame and trouble. The basic cause, which they were unable to see, was right there in their home, in their own reproachful behavior. Those parents were not criminals in the eyes of society. They would not cause any public offense. Yet their ungodly example was an evil seed that bore poisonous fruit in the life of their sons. Parents who are blind to this cause-effect relationship may never realize that they are the first to be blamed for the loss of their children through their negative example.

The sixteen generations of Judah’s kings allow us to study early childhood influences across many generations in the same family. Based on the information available in the biblical record, a strong indicator of the spiritual course of any given king was the spiritual influence of his closest family members, as that king was growing up before the age of approximately 20.

A study in sociology observed a similar tendency (although the study has been abused and misused to justify the cruel rejection of those that need the work of the gospel, hope, and redemption).

In 1874 Richard L. Dugdale visited the Ulster County Jail in New York State as a volunteer inspector for the New York Prison Association. During the visit, Dugdale discovered that some of the inmates were related to each other. This caused Dugdale to research their family tree to discover why the relatives were in jail for unrelated crimes. He traced the family back to a Dutch immigrant, Max Keyser. Dugdale gave the name Jukes to Max, instead of Keyser, and published a paper observing that a significant number of descendants of Max Keyser were involved in crime. Dugdale was able to track down some 540 people descended by blood from the Keyser’s family (Dugdale also included statistics about those who married into the Keyser family and postulates about those relatives he could not track down). Of those 540 individuals, half of all women were sexually promiscuous. Of the larger group of blood relatives and those married into the family, between 20% and 30% were living off some form of welfare. Half of the family members that learned a trade at all, learned it in prison. Sixty individuals were thieves. At the time of Dugdale’s report, the sociologist estimated the cost to the government: imprisonment, health care required that the family could not afford, police work, and so on, to be about $1.3 million (approximately $21 million in today’s dollars).1

Here are two examples showing how juvenile minds are influenced by their parents:

In contrast, the research into the Keyser family was commissioned in part by the descendant of Jonathan Edwards, that famous preacher who lived approximately the same time as Max Keyser. Researchers inform that Jonathan Edwards had 1,394 descendants through several generations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the descendants of this man there were 13 college presidents, 200 ministers of the gospel, 86 state senators (including 3 congressmen) and 1 vice president of the United States), 60 prominent lawyers (including 30 judges), about 300 farmers, and a certain number of businessmen.

These statistics are in harmony with the second commandment of the Law of God (Exodus 20:5, last part) and propose to both old and young an honest self-examination.

Mothers as educators

Mothers should learn from Jochebed, whose main concern was to educate her son, Moses. This is why we find a favorable report about him (Hebrews 11:23–26).

“[Jochebed] faithfully improved her opportunity to educate her child for God. She felt confident that he had been preserved for some great work, and she knew that he must soon be given up to his royal mother, to be surrounded with influences that would tend to lead him away from God. All this rendered her more diligent and careful in his instruction than in that of her other children. She endeavored to imbue his mind with the fear of God and the love of truth and justice, and earnestly prayed that he might be preserved from every corrupting influence. She showed him the folly and sin of idolatry, and early taught him to bow down and pray to the living God, who alone could hear him and help him in every emergency.

“She kept the boy as long as she could but was obliged to give him up when he was about twelve years old. From his humble cabin home he was taken to the royal palace, to the daughter of Pharaoh, ‘and he became her son.’ Yet even here he did not lose the impressions received in childhood. The lessons learned at his mother’s side could not be forgotten. They were a shield from the pride, the infidelity, and the vice that flourished amid the splendor of the court.”2

All through the history of God’s people there have been Jochebeds. The mother of George Washington was one of them. She raised her son in the fear of the Lord, with the help of the Word of God, and with much prayer. And her efforts were not in vain. Great men have attributed their accomplishments to the educational efforts of their mother.

One day Napoleon asked Madame Campan: “What is wanting so that the youth of France be well educated?” “Good mothers,” was her reply. Forcibly struck with the wise answer, the emperor said: “Here is a system in one word. . . . Let France have good mothers, and she will have good sons.” Whenever he had a chance, he repeated what he had learned from that lady.

Louis de Beaufort, a French historian, wrote: “The future of society is in the hands of mothers.”

Remember this: Behind every great man there is, in the first place, a great mother, and, in the second place, a great father. In their homes the generational gap is practically inexistent.

By the way, how does a woman show her greatness? Not by exhibiting her vanities in her physical appearance but by revealing her spiritual qualities in her everyday life. Her worthy character is what makes her great in the eyes of God.

“Remember Lot’s wife”

Mothers should also learn a lesson from another woman mentioned in the Bible—Lot’s wife—not as an example worthy of imitation but as a serious warning. Why did Lot lose his children? Because his was a divided home. He was a God-fearing man, but she was an irreligious woman. Through her wrong influence, they made one mistake after another. First, they separated from father Abraham and from his congregation. They drifted away from the household of God. Second, they went to live in a very dangerous place, namely, Sodom, where corruption was reaching its culmination. Third, through her negative attitude before God, she counteracted the effect of the good influence that he was trying to exert upon the daughters. Therefore, when they reached adulthood, they were unable to distinguish between right and wrong.

In many cases it’s the father that exerts the wrong influence. But what if both father and mother pull in the same direction, toward the same self-destructive end? Listen to what a young girl wrote to Ann Landers:

“My parents spoiled me rotten. They let me do anything and everything. They let me go any place with anybody. Any kid who thinks life like that is fun, is crazy. I practically raised myself and my life is a mess.”

Even among Christians there are many who are repeating the mistake of Eli. Read 1 Samuel 2:22–24; 3:13, 14.

I’m acquainted with indulgent parents who pampered their children to a point where the youngsters would generally get away with their capricious desires, their neglect of duty, their irresponsible attitude. And when they grew up, they were misfits at home, at school, at work, in their marriage, in their religious life—misfits everywhere.

A cycle of psychological changes

In many cases the thinking of a son (or daughter) about his (or her) reasonable Christian parents reveals a cycle:

At the age of 8–10 the child thinks (and reveals his or her thinking): My parents are geniuses; they know almost everything. At 15: My parents do not know too many things. In a number of areas I am better informed than they are. At 20–30: My dad is a blockhead and my mom is outmoded and helplessly ignorant. They know practically nothing. At 40–50: My parents aren’t as dumb as I thought they were. Oh, no! Their eyes were open to many things that I was unable to see. At 60: My dad was a wise man. My mom had a lot of common sense. They had much experience, good judgment, and intelligent solutions. I should have listened to their advice.

A warning against excessive severity

While some parents are overindulgent, others are excessively severe. The ironical proverb, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” is often misapplied. The result: Some children, subjected to severe punishment as a routine, lose their individuality, their personality, their self-respect. They don’t have enough stamina to stand on their own feet, and, when temptation comes, they fall an easy prey. Others go to the other extreme. They rebel against the parents, against the teachers, against the government, and against God. It’s not easy to keep a well-balanced middle line between the two extremes.


Isaiah the prophet anticipated the joy that Christian parents will experience in the great day which is before us. In that day no greater anxiety will trouble the mind of faithful parents until they can say: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me” (Isaiah 8:18).

2 Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 243, 244.