Why do Christians act the way they act? Ideally, Christians don't behave and act the same as those who don't follow Christ and all the rituals, customs, and behaviors can seem foreign and ridiculous to most outsiders to the faith. Perhaps, the ones it can seem most foreign and ridiculous to are the next generation. I don't personally have children, but in my own experience, I struggled to understand why our family did what it did. How should parents respond when their children bring these questions up? Should they marshal together a list of reasons into a massive tome like Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict? Should parents engage in a direct discussion about the individual practices the child is questioning and provide a proof text to support the action? What would you do?
Although I think how we respond must ultimately be determined in the moment, I was surprised to see such a direct response to this question in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. In chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, we find Moses exhorting the Israelite community before their entry into the promised land of Canaan. Moses wants Israel to remember the covenant promises of God, and the Israelite covenant promises to obey and fear him. Central to remembering is passing down the knowledge of the covenant. In verse 20-25 we find this extended discussion on how the Israelites were to answer the future generations that asked why they acted the way they did.
20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son,‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’
The response of the Israelites is to narrate the story of God. The loving and gracious acts of God are contextualized in history and eventually brought into the life of the questioner. We certainly are not going to lift this passage and share this story with our next generation, the whole New Testament has happened since then! How do we tell the story now that Christ has come? Here is an interesting translation of the above passage in light of the NT by Dr. Daniel Block in his commentary on Deuteronomy:
"When our children ask us in days to come, what is the meaning of the ordinances and customs that we observe, then we will say: "We were slaves to sin, but the Lord rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and ushered us into his glorious kingdom of light, with a strong hand, and great signs and wonders. He has brought us out in fulfillment of his promises and in accordance with his glorious plan of salvation, conceived before the foundation of the world.So the Lord commanded us to demonstrate our fear and love for him by keeping his commands for our good always and as expressions of our covenant relationship with him, as it is this day. And it will be righteousness for us before him if we are careful to show that we love God with all our hearts by doing all that he commanded us. Then we too will hear him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.'"
What do you think about this method of narrating the story of God versus immediately and directly trying to defend our Christian ethics and behavior? Although it might be easier to defend them directly, would you feel competent and knowledgeable enough about the story of God to tell it to the next generation?