Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Parental Favoritism - Unholy Approval, Unholy Denial

[According to my tracker, this Bible lesson from February, 2006 has steadily remained on the most popular list. Genesis 25 and the interaction between the parents and the two sons is a powerful lesson in the dangers of parental favoritism. The true source of favoritism is narcissism - the parent prefers the child that is most like themselves. I pray that this has helped others come to grips with this all-too-common family dilemma.]

Genesis 25:28 – “And Isaac loved (and was partial to) Esau, because he ate of Esau’s game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

“As long as you are more concerned for yourself than you are for people who you have never seen, you are wrong, and you cannot have even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul.” – From the sermon “The Love of God” by Meister Eckhart from a modern translation by Raymond B. Blakney.

Why would a father or mother look at one child as a blessing and the other as something else, perhaps something even worthless or bad?

As I wrote my lesson this past week on Esau and Jacob and Isaac’s preference for Esau over Jacob, I almost passed over this dilemma without seeing it. Remember that Isaac has been promised numerous descendants who will inherit the land, but there is a catch. Genesis 18:19 – The Lord says, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." That’s right, Abraham was chosen to be a father, that would be his primary role, and his task is to keep the way of the Lord.

For many years Isaac is faithful to God, puts Him first, and trusts in Him. However, he slips drastically in his favoritism of Esau. Why does he love Esau so much? “He ate of Esau’s game” says more than what it appears to say. Isaac saw something more in Esau that he liked. Any son or daughter who is not a favorite can tell you that bringing home some good food doesn’t go very far towards favoritism. The worst side effect of favoritism is the deep sense of hopelessness in the zero child.

No, Esau was Isaac’s kind of son. He pleased Isaac, and Isaac tried to give him his blessing even though it was against God’s will. God had prophesied that the “older will serve the younger" (Esau will serve Jacob) and Isaac knows that Esau’s two pagan wives cannot carry the “seed of Abraham” which is going to be the Messiah.

This story is air-tight because these two boys were born under God’s will and according to His promises. This is not like the half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael, these two are equals. But Isaac forgets to love and nurture their God-image, and to love them equally. Instead he favors the one because he falls in love with his own image, his own pleasures. We must love that essence in our children that pleases God, and try to bring it out (nurture it). We must not love our children based upon what pleases us alone. Obviously, what pleases us alone does so because it does not please God.

Parental favoritism is an unholy approval and an unholy denial.

Isaac’s sin of parental favoritism came out of the most common sin of all: narcissism. He loved what pleased him more than he loved what pleases God. Isaac’s wife Rebekah finds out that blind Isaac is going to bless Esau after he comes back from hunting. She has Jacob disguise himself as his brother Esau and Jacob receives the blessing from the old man. When Esau returns, Isaac realizes that he was deceived by Jacob, but he doesn’t take the blessing back. Why? Because he remembered that blessing Esau was against God’s will, and he began to tremble. He was not afraid of Esau or Jacob, but God. Isaac does an about face. He sends Jacob away to Abraham’s relatives to find a godly wife. Esau vows to kill his brother. In the end, Isaac’s favoritism tears his family apart.

Meister Eckhart states how totally self-love blinds us. “As long as you are more concerned for yourself than you are for people who you have never seen, you are wrong, and you cannot have even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul.” Not just for your kids, but “people you have never seen” and not “even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul”. When we fall in love with our own image we lose sight of the God-image and of the humanity in other people. That is how a child becomes a punching bag. That is how that child’s sibling becomes the parent’s best friend when that role belongs to the spouse. That is how a wife can become a stranger and a plotter against her own husband. That is how one person can murder another. God is our humanity. It is His goodness, not ours, that makes us human. It is that goodness that we must seek in our children, in our friends, and in those who cross our paths.

Can only children suffer from favoritism? Yes. They can be a zero (“You’re not like me! You’ll never be any good!”). They can also be a one. Either way they lose. Even if they are favored by both parents, and those parents love them for selfish reasons, their God-image is still not being nurtured. They become “spoiled rotten”; entitled, arrogant, mean-spirited. Remember, parental favoritism is an unholy approval as well as an unholy denial. Nothing good comes of it.

As parenthood grows on the parents, they tend to forget the principle of “watch what you say in front of a toddler because you never know where you’ll here it again”. How many parents have been embarrassed when their toddler asks the waiter, “Can you get me another god-damn Sprite, please?” Ouch! Where did they learn that? As the kids become larger and more difficult to control, the parental rhetoric toward the child can get a lot worse. Only they don’t repeat it as much as they act it out.

The most repeated phrase our children should ever hear is “I love you.” Those words can break down walls in your child’s heart and put in its place a temple in which God can dwell. Every “I love you” is a freshly laid stone, and every day you loved them and didn’t scream at them is a day that didn’t rain in their hearts and a full day of work was accomplished on their temple.

The Bible calls us to recognize our own narcissism and treat it as the crime it is. We need to convict IT and send it away; never should we send our children away. Narcissism enslaves us when it takes root. It causes the favoritism that destroys families. Loving God more than we love ourselves is the only way to freedom from the bondage of our own narcissism. When we love God and make His pleasure our goal, the scales fall from our eyes. We see the world the way it really is. We see that He has called us and we see the Why is that we are to raise His children and keep His way of love and goodness and hope and peace. That all starts by making room for Him in our own hearts so we can bring up children of God.

What does this say? Love God with all your heart, soul and strength/ love others at least as much as you love yourself. Jesus’ two commands both tackled narcissism; there is no amount of narcissism acceptable before God, no narcissism before other people, no narcissism period. It can be safely said that narcissism is the root of all sin.

Only Christ (God, love, goodness, peace) dwelling in us can break the chains of our own narcissism. Only Christ living in us can help us forgive and heal and make everything new again. All of our children; complete, unique, each one intended by God for a unique purpose, equally loved by God, each a blessing from Him. That is His will. And that is the truth that can set us free.


Flycandler said...

The problem is that the idea of egalitarianism amongst children isn't Biblical. The Bible (especially the Tanakh) places a heavy emphasis on primogeniture, i.e., the rights of the firstborn.

One of the best examples of this being codified into law is Deut 21.15-17, which states that the firstborn, even if of a wife the father "dislikes", gets a higher status than the son of a wife the father "likes". It declares explicitly that "since he is the first issue of his [father's] virility, the right of the firstborn [2/3 of the estate] is his."

This appears in the longer Jacob-Esau narrative. Esau is born first of the twins, but Jacob is described as coming out of Rebekah trying to go first (Jacob in Hebrew is a pun on "he takes by the heel" or "he supplants") (Gen 25.24-6). Esau has a birthright as the first son of Issac, which he mysteriously sells to Jacob in vv.29-34.

Even in spite of the sale and Esau's later marriage to two Hittite women (v.35: "they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah"), Isaac still prefers to give the blessing to his eldest son in the famous narrative in Ch. 27, even telling the man he thinks is Esau "be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you" (Gen 27.29). Remember, at this point Jacob is still single. After this episode, Isaac tells Jacob to marry a first cousin rather than a Caananite woman (NOT because of any divine edict, but because of Rebekah's weariness and/or racism (27.46)), so Esau goes out and marries Abraham's great-granddaughter (28.6-9) BEFORE Jacob has even heard of Rachel or Leah (29.9).

The concept of divinely-mandated favoritism toward the first born male is not an aberration, as it appears again in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and a passing reference in Ezekiel. There are apparently exceptions made (for unknown reasons) for certain cases of parental favoritism, such as Joseph over his elder brother Reuben (Gen 48.21-2) or Shimri over Hilkiah (1 Ch 26.10-1).

There are all kinds of reasons for parents to avoid showing favoritism to their children. The Jacob-Esau narrative is not one of them. If anything, it teaches us to lie, cheat, steal and swindle our own family members in order to get into daddy's good graces.

Jim Jordan said...

You are confusing the right of the first born to parental favoritism.

(NOT because of any divine edict, but because of Rebekah's weariness and/or racism

You can accuse me of interpreting the message that we can apply to our lives today, but your Rebekah comment is rank revisionism. You're totally ignoring Chapter 24 and the servant who found Rebekah in the first place. "Don't marry pagans" is good advice for today also.

You seem to have missed the wonderful teaching that this story provides. Are you interested in the Bible primarily to learn from it or just to revise it?
Racism, hah!

Flycandler said...

I'm just telling you what the text says in context. You're the one twisting the words in the Tanakh to match the presupposition of sibling equality (which really only appeared during the Enlightenment).

Incidentally, the only thing that Chapter 24 says to this is that Abraham told Isaac not to marry any woman of the Cannanite race, but of his own race. The passage says nothing about anyone's religion.

The text explicitly says that the reason Isaac and Rebekah did not want their sons to marry Hittites had little to do with religion. 26.34-35 says "when Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah." This gets repeated in 27.46, "then Rebekah said to Isaac, 'I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?'"

Of course, Rebekah was found by the servant and given in arranged marriage to Isaac in order to prevent his marrying someone of the wrong race. Should we try to apply arranged marriage to our lives today as well?

This is also not the only place where Genesis lauds the practice of polygamy. It's seen as a good and worthy thing, as is schtupping one's slaves in order to produce children. Are you going to treat us to an explanation of how "we can apply [this] to our lives today"?

I tremble with anticipation.

Jim Jordan said...

Your ignorance is astounding, Fly. Your Bible is absolutely worthless. If it's just a bunch of embarassing ancient behaviors, why do you bother with it?

Flycandler said...

I never said it was "just a bunch of embarassing [sic] ancient behaviors".

I simply say that I place less emphasis on the more obscure bits on polygamy and dietary law, JUST AS YOU DO.

Again, tell me how you apply Genesis' lessons on polygamy and sex with slaves to today. According to you, every single sentence in the Bible is a "lesson" to modern man (except for "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"), provided Jim Jordan can spin it enough so that it becomes the exact opposite of the original meaning.

Jim Jordan said...

You are rewriting the Bible. It condones abortion and polygamy, advocates the Nuremberg Defense, and I have a feeling you are only getting started. What is left of your Christianity then?

Jim Jordan said...

Last, I reposted this article because it was two years old yet it has consistently been on the list of most popular articles. The topic was very close to me as my family suffered in the same exact way as that family thousands of years ago. It is an important lesson on human nature and on parenting. I assume that that is why it was widely read.

Your first comment spoke volumes:
The problem is that the idea of egalitarianism amongst children isn't Biblical. The Bible (especially the Tanakh) places a heavy emphasis on primogeniture, i.e., the rights of the firstborn.

The "rights of the first born" is a legal right that everyone knew about. Parental favoritism is another scandal entirely. You confuse legal terms with personal terms. Why? Why can't you just read something and judge it on its own merits instead of subverting it to your agenda?

Flycandler said...

No agenda here, Jim. I actually agree that parental favoritism is a bad thing. My own mother suffered from its effects growing up, so she made an extra effort to let me and my sister know she loved us equally. That was a good thing.

The thing is, when one tries to manipulate the Bible to match one's presuppositions (e.g., "parental favoritism is bad"), one ends up making a mockery of the Bible by making it say things it does not say. The Genesis families in particular (God is apparently the first when God declares Abel the favorite) are really bad examples because they are not only rife with favoritism, but the favoritism is celebrated. You will not find a command in the Torah to "love all your children equally"; instead you will find instructions to pick a favorite based on who "opened the womb".

You are rewriting the Bible. It condones abortion and polygamy, advocates the Nuremberg Defense, and I have a feeling you are only getting started.

Again, you have this unerring tendency to accuse others of that which you are guilty. I never said the Bible condones abortion; I said it really doesn't address it at all (which makes sense, considering the state of medical technology at the time it was written). I will admit to saying that the Bible condones polygamy BECAUSE IT DOES. The Jacob-Rachel-Leah story is the perfect example: each of their kids (including the raped slaves' kids) are blessed by the Abrahamic covenant by being the founders of their respective tribes (Joseph getting two, because of his father's--and God's--favoritism). I personally think polygamy is a bad idea, so I wouldn't turn to Genesis' justification of the practice to support monogamy.

I never said the Bible advocates the "Nuremberg Defense". I argued that your moral absolutism (which leads inevitably to "Nuremberg Defenses") is incompatible with the concept of pikuash nefesh, one of the earliest forms of divinely-directed moral relativism. You said the preservation of life is not Biblically based and therefore not a sufficient justification to violate the Ninth Commandment. I'm still waiting to hear what you would consider valid (without mentioning abortion).

You keep accusing others of twisting the Bible. I'm just telling you what it actually says, in black and white (or red and white), without manipulating it using your rather unique theology.

Jim Jordan said...

God is apparently the first when God declares Abel the favorite

Abel had faith, giving to God first and the best. Abel did the tax write-off thing and gave his offering "in the course of time". Each week in bible study we have an application segment where applications of the truths we've learned are discussed. There have never been any irrational applications. The Bible is as useful today as it ever was.

We debated Genesis 19's usefulness on another site. Then I had written:
Each generation has the responsibility to relate the current age to the truths in the Bible. Its what my pastor and all pastors are supposed to do on Sunday mornings.

If you look at the interaction of the characters, the relationships between them, the words exchanged and generally as many facts as are available, there is a lesson in most any Scripture passage. It just seems that you are rendering the Bible ineffective as a learning tool. What do you think the Bible is for?

Flycandler said...

Again, twisting the Bible to say things you want it to say, Jim. Here's Genesis 4.2-5, unedited:

"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell."

The Bible does NOT say that "Abel had faith...[and] Abel [sic, I think you mean Cain] did the tax write off thing". The Bible doesn't give a reason for God's favor for Abel over Cain, other than possibly God's preference for meat over veggies. It's one of the mysteries of the Bible. What was Cain supposed to do? Steal or buy or beg his brother's sheep for an offering? Then it wouldn't be his. Cain was a tiller, and he brought the first fruits as an offering. Should he have offered nothing? These are questions the Bible does not answer. Oddly enough, one of the holy texts of the Mormon church, "The Book of Moses" (a.k.a. The Pearl of Great Price) does tell of Cain's collusion with Satan in selecting which fruits to sacrifice to God in which manner. However, I presume you don't use The Pearl of Great Price or its companion, The Book of Mormon, in the same manner as the Bible. It'd probably give your poor pastor a coronary.

To say there's anything more in the text of Genesis is to make something up. The problem I have with your system of "finding modern applications for every single verse in the Bible" is that it does lead to "irrational applications". Or, more often than not, you state your preconceived notion ("familial favoritism is bad") and then make the Bible say something it doesn't to match your own personal opinion. I don't think the Bible is "ineffective as a learning tool". I think that what you're doing to it, making it contradict itself to serve your own purposes, is ineffective. From these passages in Genesis, one can learn--among many other things--a lot about the family dynamics of Iron Age Semitic culture. It could be interesting in a discussion comparing family dynamics from the time of Jacob to David to Esther to Zerubbabel to Judas Maccabeus to Joseph and Mary to Ananias and Sapphira to Cornelius and so forth. But to say that the Bible says something it doesn't in Genesis is wrong. At best, you're sowing seeds of confusion. At worst, you're turning people away from the actual message of Scripture.

The Bible does not exist as a textbook for modern life. To turn to the Bible as a magic book for answers to all situations is idolatry.

The Bible is the unique and most authoritative witness to Christ, the Word (John 1), who was God reconciling the world to God's self. In the broadest sense, it reveals to us the story of creation, fall and redemption, and it does so beautifully, with counterpoints and motifs. It was also set down by human hand over the period of hundreds of years (often after generations of oral tradition) and not in the order we see it today. It has been translated millions of times into hundreds of languages, parts of it lost, found, with varying source material and new discoveries being made all the time. But the central message, the witness, does not change.

Why do you want to cheapen the Bible so?

Flycandler said...


Jim Jordan said...

Don't teach Sunday school, Fly. You suck. :-)

The Bible does not exist as a textbook for modern life.

Then toss it into the garbage can.

Flycandler said...

The Bible is the unique and authoritative witness to God in Christ. Why do you want to cheapen it by making it a self-help book, and cheapen it further by making it say things it does not say? Why lower it to the level of "Marriage for Dummies"?

The Bible has a very specific purpose. I cherish it because of its purpose.

Look, I would certainly use The Joy of Cooking as a reference for preparing food. I would not use it for philosophy, quantum physics, or psychology. It's like saying "because The Joy of Cooking tells me to beat the egg whites until stiff, I should beat my children until they're stiff."

Likewise, I'm not going to use a story about a polygamous man who screws his slaves as a model for my own life in the 21st century. However, I can definitely use the instruction to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison today.

Making the Bible into a magical all-purpose textbook is making it into an idol.

Jim Jordan said...

The Bible is the unique and authoritative witness to God in Christ.

I'm not going to use a story about a polygamous man who screws his slaves as a model for my own life in the 21st century.

There's something wrong with you, Fly. You say the Bible is a "unique and authoritative witness to God" then you trash it in the same comments.

My Bible Lesson on Isaac/Esau/Jacob focused on God's point of view, which is always the triumphant POV in the Bible. You don't sound as if you believe the Bible is relevant today.

Flycandler said...

You're completely missing the point, Jim.

The Bible is not a self-help manual.

Yes, the Bible is very relevant today, but it is what it is. I would not use it for instructions on how to build an airplane. I would not use it to learn about penguins. I would not use it to learn about life in Precolumbian America. The Bible does not contain answers to these questions.

I would use it to learn the story of Christ coming to earth as God's way of reconciling the world with God's self. I would use it as a guide to the metaphysical.

What you're doing is twisting the words of the Bible to say something they don't say in order to match your own personal opinion. That's wrong.

It doesn't surprise me in the least, though. Everything has to be about you, even the Bible.