I have always been intrigued with the story of King David and his son, Absalom.
David had many sons, but none of them were like Absalom. Absalom was the firstborn son of David and was to be the next king by privilege of birth. His life must have been filled with the special treatment of a prince, but it must have also been filled with a whole bunch of convoluted and mixed feelings toward his father. We know little about the complexities, but we live in a society where family matters have grown complex and confused. Absalom had to contend with a number of issues. His mother was not the first wife of King David, or the last. David had a number of concubines as well. It seems King David had quite a large number of sons—40 or more.
Absalom also waited in vain for his father to handle the rape of his sister Tamar by another son of David, Amnon (2 Samuel 13:14). David seemed to have been preoccupied with matters of state, and his interaction with his sons seemed to have been limited. King David was a famous warrior as well as a godly man. When Absalom was about 22 years old, the incident with Bathsheba took place. Absalom saw his father as an adulterer and possibly a murderer. His respect for his father probably went to new lows. Now he plotted and schemed to get his “rightful” inheritance and become king. Absalom cheated, deceived, undermined, and plotted to kill his father. The civil war could only end one way as far as he was concerned. When I look at this terrible picture of a dysfunctional family, I wonder how it was that when victory was completely in the hands of King David, he stated that he would rather have died than to learn that Absalom was killed (2 Samuel 18:33). But that is what we read in God's Word.
David had faults and the anger and resentment Absalom displayed could be said to have some grounds. Yet with all the actions of Absalom—which included shaming David through the sexual abuse of some of David’s concubines (2 Samuel 16:22)—David never lost the love he had for his son. Even after all of Absalom’s treasonous and despicable acts, his father could not bring himself to rejoice in Absalom’s death. Perhaps David blamed himself, as all parents do. One great lesson in these verses is parental pain. The vast majority of parents cannot stop loving and longing for their children. I have spoken to people whose children have forsaken any contact with the parent (usually the father), and the sorrow within the parent never completely ends. I also have a friend who has been searching for her father for the last 50 years. She has never met him, but yearns to know him. God has placed something strong in the hearts of parents and children.
Over the years, I have seen a great deal of parental pain displayed when parents see how their children live. Each generation yearns to see success and contentment in the lives of their children. We rejoice when our children are happy. Yet parents are quite limited in what they can do or say once the child is grown. A son or a daughter, once they become an adult, move out of their parents’ home and make their own family with his or her spouse (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31).
But all who are parents know that the ties of love are not fully severed. We all understand that our children now have their own families and our relationship with them changes a little. We still love our children with a passion that does not fade. Wise parents will understand that the new family will be a little different from their own because it’s a new blending of two families into one.
Parents are in pain when their children suffer. In every life some storm clouds and rain must come, and sometimes we get more than we would like. I have seen the suffering of parents at the death of a child—no matter the age of the child.
This can be seen in another great tale of the scriptures: that of Jacob and his son Joseph. Jacob did not have an ideal situation. His children came from four different women, and Joseph came a little later in his life. The trouble was that Joseph was a son whom Jacob grew to trust as he saw the sterling character Joseph had. He also was the firstborn son of Rachel, the wife Jacob loved the most. That little “extra” love caused jealousy among his half-brothers.
When Joseph was still a teenager, his brothers sold him into slavery and Joseph vanished for the next 10 or more years. Jacob could not be consoled over the loss of Joseph, and his brothers bitterly regretted their act. When Jacob was an old man and a grandfather, he learned that Joseph was indeed alive and successful in Egypt. Only a parent can know the frightening hope that sprang up in Jacob—the disbelief that after all the years of mourning and sorrow, his beloved son was yet alive. Genesis 45:26-28 states that Jacob’s heart stood still. Much like King David, Jacob said just to see Joseph would be enough and he could die in peace.
Parents who have lost sons and daughters in the frightful wars of the 20th century to disease, or perhaps to the heinous effect of drugs or alcohol abuse, would understand the incredible feeling Jacob had when he first met Joseph again. The Bible does not even describe the event with much more than a few words, but those words carry a whole lot of weight. “So Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; and he presented himself to him, and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive’” (Genesis 46:29-30, New King James Version). I have often wondered why it was that God allowed Jacob to suffer this terrible pain for such a long time. There is no answer given, though the dreams Joseph had did carry an indication in them. Perhaps Jacob (Israel) also needed some shaping from God (Genesis 37:10).
There is a strange change taking place in our lands today. Millions of babies have been aborted and millions of parents have put their own pleasure before their interaction with their children. Paul writes that children will become more and more disobedient to parents (2 Timothy 3:2), and thus it seems the ties of the family will be damaged. All too often the parents are to blame. There is a spiritual loss when women intentionally have an abortion because a baby is “inconvenient.” There is a fundamental emotion of love that is damaged. I realize that many, many women have later regretted their action. It seems they really do love and miss the fetus that was taken—though that later feeling is not often mentioned. The women I know have never forgotten about the abortion and usually carry guilt and pain in later years.
Every so often we might meet someone who really does not feel any familial ties to their children, and children who do not care to see their parents. That is abnormal and shows some deep damage that has been done on a spiritual level. There may be some damage to the brain that would deaden the senses, but for normal healthy people, becoming a parent unleashes a host of emotions which are so strong, they are frightening and, at the same time, wonderful. We fully realize that we enter a danger zone in that we parents, through our children, could suffer some of the greatest pain a human can endure. Yet the love we have and the joy at seeing our children’s success makes the danger of this pain vanish. We also learn about our Heavenly Father. He is a parent and He suffers when His children suffer.
There is a great lesson in family life that has to do with forming the character traits of our Heavenly Father. “No pain, no gain” is an old saying for sports training. Parental pain can be huge—so, too, is the gain in God’s eternal plan. The fifth commandment directs children to honor their parents. God designed parents to love their children and He knows why this commandment is so important. It is never too late to express our love for our children. It is best to do it early while they are with us and while they are growing into adulthood.
For more information on God’s plan for families, read the free Bible study aid Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension.