4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:3-7 (ESV)
This verse came to mind tonight as I was reading a newspaper article in which Richard Dawkins asks parents not to force their religions opinions on children. It’s really an odd thing to say. I really don’t know if he has children or not, but I can assure you he raised them according to his religious opinions if he did have any. Atheists do not raise their children without religious opinion, the children understand right away what their parents attitude toward God is, good, bad or indifferent.
But this isn’t an idea that is new either. I’ve heard plenty of well-meaning Christian parents say the same thing over the years. Often it is something to the effect of, we want to raise them to make their own decisions when they are old enough. As if raising them up in the church is going to keep them from making their own decisions when they are old enough. Neither does raising children in the faith hamper their ability to be open minded, inquisitive or free thinkers. I tend to chuckle a little bit though when I hear those descriptors, most people I know that describe themselves that way are far from any of those things.
Everyone raises their children with their religious opinions. Hindus can’t help but raise their children to be Hindus, what they believe about the nature of the world and the gods is naturally passed down through family ritual and community festivals. Atheists raise their children to be atheists, which is also a religious opinion, they do this also through family ritual, the most prominent being the avoidance of church on Sunday. Christians too will naturally raise their children to be Christian, not only because God has given them the command to do so, but because they can’t help it. We who have been given the wonderful gift of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ, can’t help but desire to give the same to our children and grand-children. The command of God isn’t even a command to us, it’s a wonderful promise that comes as a sigh of relief when we realize that God loves our children as much as he loves us. This is why Peter tells the parents of Jerusalem that the gift of baptism is not only for them but for their children too. We love because he first loved us, and it is only natural that we want to share that love with our children.
We know our children will grow up to be independent, that they will be exposed to the smorgasbord of religion that is the center of American culture, and whatever choices they make later in life, whether or not we agree with them, as foolish as they might be, we will still love them, even as Christ and our Father in heaven loves them. In the meantime, while they are being raised we will thank God that he not only loves us, but loves also those whom we love, and will take advantage of those opportunities we have to help strengthen them in the faith and grow in the faith together. Prayers at bedtime and devotions at breakfast, bringing them to church and Sunday School, baptizing them and teaching them diligently the love of God who died for all sins and desires that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, even our own children.