No easy answers

qanda_header_1When faith is called into question, how do we answer?

by Rod Wilson

My 18-year-old daughter has started dating a guy who is Hindu. She says he accepts her faith so why can’t I accept his?

I don’t want them to date but I am not sure how to handle it.
One of the most complex situations to deal with as parents is how to respond to the person our child wants to date. Do not be discouraged if you do not have easy answers to this particular challenge.

The Bible makes it clear that God wants His people to live in a way that is distinct from His enemies. The apostle Paul reminds us to “not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Your vigilance about your daughter’s dating is in step with the heart of God.

The biblical record also shows that God’s people did fraternize with His enemies to the point of inter-marrying with them. Even though God the Father wanted His children to respond in a particular way, they did not always do so. In other words the appropriate desire of the Father for His children does not always lead to their obedience. So when our children are developing intimate relationships outside the Christian faith, God the Father understands.

Your daughter’s use of the word “accept” is significant. Many people in post-modern culture understand “accept” to mean understand completely, agree or affirm. I wonder if her Hindu boyfriend understands the Christian faith and agrees with it or if his acceptance is a superficial acknowledgement of your daughter’s beliefs? Maybe he can get more exposure to the gospel and the core differences between Hinduism and the Christian faith can be made clear. You may be able to play some role in this but more than likely maintaining your relationship with your daughter and her boyfriend and committing to pray may be the best you have to offer.

My daughter’s husband has decided he is no longer a Christian. He says he will support her in her faith but he is tired of being a hypocrite. Is it her problem to deal with? How do I help? What about my grandkids?

One of the biggest problems in extended families is determining how we should respond to the problems of other family members. I have found the best way to start is to ask the question—am I responsible for others or, under God, responsible to others?

When you feel responsible for others you want to solve their problems. But when you feel—under God—responsible to others, you want to listen, empathize and confront while trusting God to do His work. The “for” strategy tends to make us anxious and overly responsible, while the “to” approach lets us be more free and relaxed.

This is easy to summarize, but it is not easy for your daughter. It is not her responsibility to solve her husband’s problems with the Christian faith. It is her responsibility to commit him to the Lord and in the process try to understand him and confront him on various issues. Similarly it is not your responsibility to fix all the difficulties of your son-in-law, daughter or grandchildren. Ultimately this is God’s responsibility. He may use you to listen, to show understanding and to confront where appropriate. He may even use you to direct them to appropriate counsellors and helpers.

But if you move into the role of rescuer you can be guaranteed that you will experience anxiety and tension and may inadvertently take over the genuine responsibilities of your daughter and her husband. And while caring for grandchildren is important, avoid the temptation of taking on a parental role when that is not your responsibility.

My son visited a friend from school. He noticed a Buddha statue on the mantel and asked about it. He then told his friend he shouldn’t have idols in his house. I agree with him but how do I explain respecting others to a five-year-old?

Parents have three options when it comes to raising their children in a pluralistic culture where there is a diversity of religions. We can present our own religious convictions and not let our children know there are any other options. This approach is often reflective of cult-like viewpoints where only one perspective is emphasized and “denial of others” is crucial.

Another alternative is to provide a pluralistic religious menu to our children, emphasizing that each perspective makes sense and that it is our child’s responsibility to accept all of them. This
approach does not value one religion over another but sees them all as equally valid. “Tolerance of others” is crucial.

The third alternative is to expose our children to the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture both in the way we live and in what we say. At the same time we want them to learn about the religions around them so they recognize their values need to be held with humility and with “respect of others.”

Parents who are committed to this last alternative recognize that exposing children to the gospel, teaching about other religions and helping children learn humility and respect requires the work of the Holy Spirit along with ongoing courage and commitment. It would be nice if all it took was explaining respect. However, it takes a lot more.

Rod Wilson is president of Regent College in Vancouver, where he also serves as professor of Counselling and Psychology. He is the author of How Do I Help a Hurting Friend: Practical Help for Leaders and Laypeople (BakerBooks, 2006).


The article above was featured in the March 2010 issue of SEVEN magazine.