“Don’t Embitter Your Children”: A Message for Christian Fathers in Colossians 3:21

“Don’t Embitter Your Children”: A Message for Christian Fathers in Colossians 3:21 May 27, 2021

I recently looked up a list of encouraging Bible verses to lift my spirits as I continue to fight against my depression and weariness. I accidentally found this verse in the list, and it’s ended up being the most gratifying Bible verse I’ve happened upon:

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Colossians 3:21

Oh, if only our ex-stepdad had kept this verse in his heart. Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t be here six years after he left us, still having to deal with the effects of the emotional trauma he put us all through.

I have a huge problem with abusive parental figures using the 5th Commandment as an excuse for their ill deeds.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Exodus 20:21

Honor and respect between family members is a two-way street, as we all know. Yes, it’s important for us to appreciate what our parents do for us, and be thankful for the sacrifices they make for us. But if the people we look up to blatantly choose to abuse their power over us, then we have the right to call them out on it. There is no dishonor in calling out abusive parental figures on their crimes, no matter how much gaslighting they try to use against us. Mother Gothel, anybody?

Oh, and Frollo too, that self-righteous hypocrite.

Now, on to some Biblical analogies my friends!

Parenting Ills in the Books of Samuel

For a prime Biblical example of a toxic parent, look no further than King Saul in 1 Samuel. His envy and pride led to him turning on his own flesh and blood son, Jonathan, after seeing that Jonathan was willing to protect David from his undue wrath.

“Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!’

‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.”

1 Samuel 20:30-33

When Jonathan asked an innocent question, Saul’s immediate response was to try to kill him. Jonathan was absolutely right to question his father’s judgment, but Saul’s pride-filled heart couldn’t handle it.

We see the extreme opposite parenting style come from David himself, in regards to how he reacted to his two sons, Amnon and Absalom, committing evil.

Amnon and Tamar

(Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence)

In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon tricks his half-sister Tamar to enter his household and violates her when she refuses to comply with his demands. Instead of King David doing anything to punish Amnon, this is all we hear:

“When King David heard all this, he was furious.”

2 Samuel 13:20

That’s it. He was furious, but evidently never decided that Amnon needed to be punished. This leads to Absalom murdering his half-brother in vengeance for harming his full-sister.

Any sympathy a reader might have for Absalom is however tarnished when the book of 2 Samuel soon reveals that Absalom later tried to start a rebellion against his father for control of the kingdom. It fails and ends with Absalom’s death, which David mourns bitterly. Mourns, instead of addressing the fact that his son wanted him dead for the throne.

I found this video on YouTube after looking up discussions on Colossians 3:21. It was educating and vindicating after my own personal experiences.

“Or maybe that our children see that we live in one way before other people, we live in one way in the workplace, or in the church, but very differently in home. And that’s hypocrisy, and our children are right to respond against that.”

Tim Challies, “Fathers, Do Not Provoke Your Children”

I wish this wonderful man could know how intensely gratifying it was to hear this. It speaks to me on a personal level, because it brutally summarizes what it was like living with our ex-stepdad.

He portrayed himself as the perfect Christian gentleman in public but dropped the facade at home to demean us. He made sure that the outside world never caught onto his homebound true self, to the point that nobody believed Mom for a horrid four years. For four years, until they finally realized to their horror that he was unwittingly repeating his own father’s toxic behavior.

He was a self-righteous hypocrite, and his perpetual refusal to show humility towards any of us is a huge reason why we’re still dealing with this aftermath years later.

The Nasty Issue of “Christian” Parental Abuse

(Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of Domestic Abuse in the next two videos)

Ah, this video by Brenda Davies, author of the “God is Grey” YouTube channel, is so informative but so difficult to watch. It provides a harsh example of what happens when Christian parents truly believe that they have the…”divine” right to use corporal punishment and constant physical abuse against their children for any reason. Brenda delves into the horrifically toxic ideologies promoted by Michael and Debbie Pearl, authors of the infamous book To Train Up a Child.

Unfortunately, the teachings of Michael and Debbie pearl have led to the death of children at the hands of their parental figures, such as this tragic example here.

Oh, time to break down this vile argument they use for child abuse. In this clip, I heard Michael Pearl quote this verse from Proverbs:

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

Proverbs 13:24

Naturally, this verse lines up with the line from Psalms 23:4, about “thy rod and staff, they comfort me.”

But for Pete’s sake, way to blow scripture way out of proportion!

Yes, children need to be disciplined, with a loving but firm hand, in order to prevent them from making mistakes. God often has to discipline us, so that we avoid harming ourselves and others by our wayward choices.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

Proverbs 3:11-12

Does anybody recall a Biblical scene of God violently assaulting those He loves? Yeah, neither do I. Besides, beating your children to death isn’t the fruit of love. It’s the fruit of pride, and reveling in power over the vulnerable.

I can’t believe this is even a thing. It violates common sense and common morality. Adherents of this crap are absolutely violating God’s will by what they gleefully do to the children in their care. Here’s another verse we should all remember, from Jesus Himself in regards to crimes perpetrated against children:

“It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

Luke 17:2

Child abuse is a crime and sin. I’m disgusted that these parents are trying to delude themselves otherwise. Their children will end up disowning them, and for good reason. Dealing with our ex-stepdad was bad enough, but frankly, he’s a saint compared to these…”parents”. He never laid a hand on us, to give him some credit.

Accountability Who?

For a fictional example of a father refusing to own up to his misdeeds in front of his child, behold this riveting scene from Life is Strange: Before the Storm. James Amber should’ve known that his daughter, Rachel, was bound to eventually realize how deeply he’d been lying to her for years about her true mother. And it shouldn’t have taken him being driven into a corner for him to admit the truth.

Narcissistic, demeaning wretch. Oh, and speaking of narcissism, here’s a delicious Christian example of a narcissist invalidating his partner’s meaningful questions.

A Parent’s Responsibility

I have no patience or respect for any parental figure who chooses to abuse their power over those in their care. None. They don’t act out of love, but on their selfish, prideful desire to feel powerful over others.

Blood isn’t always thicker than water, and I’m severely tired of hearing people say that you must always love your family, even if they’re toxic. That’s a horrendously invalidating thing to say to somebody who’s suffered abuse of any kind at the hands of a family member they trusted.

We can “love” them in the sense that we seek to avoid being burdened with a grudge. Forgiving is freeing, in the end. But under no circumstances do we owe them a spot in our lives after the hell they chose to put us through.

Here, for a great analogy, check out this scene of Raven from Teen Titans disowning her father, Trigon, with powerful words.

“You may’ve created me…but you are never my father.

Fathers are kind!

Fathers protect you!

Fathers raise you!

I was protected by the monks of Azarath. I was raised by my friends.

They are my family, this is my home, and you are not welcome here!

Raven, “Teen Titans”

Nasty Memories

While our ex-stepdad wasn’t entirely malicious towards us, the few good moments we had with him will never justify or excuse everything else. It will never erase these awful memories I still have of him:

  • The time he deliberately induced a panic attack in me and my two sisters by lying to us about everything in our garage getting stolen, just because we accidentally left it open once
  • Him telling me “don’t say ‘frickin'”, and later snapping at Mom to go $%^& herself when she held him accountable
  • The only time he ever apologized to us for anything was when we overheard him insulting his previous wife to my step-brother
  • Reacting with scorn and disdain when he heard that one of my sisters was considering counseling because of his oppressive behavior
  • Welcoming me back from my first college winter break by forcing me to choose “conversation starters” from a book because “I didn’t talk enough at the table”
  • In his farewell letter to us kids, he watered down everything to he and Mom “having a disagreement”, gaslighting the four years we had to tolerate him

Our ex-stepdad constantly said to us, half-jokingly, “I’m the man!”, and demanded that we treated him as the Biblical authority in our household. Even when he deliberately treated us in toxic, demeaning, passive-aggressive ways, we were never allowed to question him. If we did, he would invalidate and shut us down so quickly.

His motto seemed to always be “My way or the highway”. And his refusal to be held accountable is a big reason why we’re still hurting years later.

I hope he finds healing from his own past because no matter what, I’m painfully aware that he’s a victim of his own father’s malice. He deserved better. But I wish he’d broken that cycle of pain instead of repeating it with us.

And thank you always, Scottish Dad, for being the God-given antidote to this pain that our family desperately needed.

Featured Image by OfotoRay/Pixabay

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