Piety Towards Parents

Dear Church Family,

This week, I have been studying and reflecting Genesis 9: God’s covenant with Noah, and then the first two sins committed after the flood. The first two sins of humanity upon leaving the ark are Noah’s drunken weakness (uncovering himself inside his tent in a drunken stupor) and Ham’s exposing of Noah’s drunken weakness (Genesis 9:20-24). Of these two sins, Ham’s sin is the greater sin. I find that both interesting and instructive.

The Sin of Ham

Noah’s line, through Shem, is the line through which Abraham is born, eventually to become the father of the nation of Israel. Noah is remembered for his faith (Hebrews 11:7) and Shem is honored as being part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (Luke 3:36). Yet, because of Ham’s sin, he and his son Canaan become the iconic enemies of God and His people (Exodus 15:15; Psalm 105:11).

So, why is Ham’s sin the greater sin? Well, there are two ways to answer that: with respect to the persons committing the sins and with respect to the nature of the sins. First, with respect to the persons committing these sins, the Scriptures bear out that Noah had faith in the Lord, but Ham did not. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and without faith it is impossible to find forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:20; Galatians 3:22).

Second, with respect to the nature of the sins which Noah and Ham committed, Noah’s sin of drunkenness and lewdness seems to be a sin of his infirmity, weakness, and old age. Ham’s sin in mocking his father and not covering up his father’s weakness is a blatant violation of the fifth commandment to honor one’s father and mother. Commenting on the fifth commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism (127) helps us to understand the nature of Ham’s sin:

“Question: What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors?
Aanswer: The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behaviour; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels, due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defence, and maintenance of their persons and authority according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honour to them and to their government.” 

 

In stating that inferiors honor their superiors by “bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love” the catechism here footnotes Genesis 9:23 as an example. There we read of how, in contrast to Ham’s sin, his brothers Shem and Japheth refused to look upon their father’s shame and covered his nakedness with a garment.

Without glossing over Noah’s sin, John Calvin exposes the heinousness of Ham’s sin in his comments on Genesis 9:22:

“Drunkenness in itself deserves as its reward, that they who deface the image of their heavenly Father in themselves, should become a laughing-stock to their own children…In the meanwhile, Ham, by reproachfully laughing at his father, betrays his own depraved and malignant disposition. We know that parents, next to God, are most deeply to be reverenced; and if there were neither books nor sermons, nature itself constantly inculcates this lesson upon us. It is received by common consent, that piety towards parents is the mother of all virtues. This Ham, therefore must have been of a wicked, perverse, and crooked disposition; since he not only took pleasure in his father’s shame, but wished to expose him to his brethren.” 

 

Sinful Exposure: I’m a loser, and so are you

We live in a day and age where exposing the sins of others out of morbid curiosity has become a fad (see most any talk or reality show) – we are becoming sadistic voyeurs. We also live in a very therapeutic time where worldly wisdom says that healing (defined as feeling better about oneself) is best found through exposing the frailties and infirmities of others – we are becoming psychoanalyzed egomaniacs. This attitude, I think, has been greatly influenced by postmodern cynicism in which there are no heroes. We are all subtly being told that no one is virtuous, moral, or upright; in order to confirm this belief, we expose the frailties and infirmities of those in authority over us – we are becoming prideful, insubordinate rebels.

Often, the exposing of those in authority over us begins with a self-disclosure of one’s own lack of virtue: “Let me tell you all of the ways in which I am a sinner and a failure.” Or, in the words of Beck, “Soy un perdedor, I'm a loser, baby.”

This form of therapeutic over-exposure of one’s own sins and the sins of others has also been appropriated even by some Christians. Spiritually undressing in public has, unfortunately, become quite popular. I am not arguing for inappropriately covering up sin; there is an appropriate context for confessing one’s sins (to God, to the one offended, or to the Church). What I am saying, however, is that we ought to remember the admonition to “keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Whether it is true or not (as certainly Noah’s drunken nakedness was true), it is not always wise to make public our own or other’s sins (as Ham did). In fact, sometimes it is not only unwise, but sinful.

Proper Covering: Remembering, Considering, Imitating

I’ve often wondered why it is that at most funerals – particularly Christian funerals – people are remembered for their faith and the good things that they have done. Usually, nothing is said of their sin, their failings, their bad mistakes, the things that they themselves probably would regret. But, we have precedent for this kind of remembering in the Scriptures. Read Hebrews 11 sometime. In the great hall of faith of Hebrews 11, we are guided by God’s Word to consider the faith of those who came before us, not their sin. We know they were sinners; they were human beings and we have accounts of some of their actual sins recorded for us in Scripture. That’s not the point. The point is this: maybe we ought not to be considering their sin so much (God, in Christ, has forgiven and forgotten it, you know).

Yes, we can learn from the sins and failures of others and what not to do (1 Corinthians 10:11), but let’s not be like Ham. In addition to those of the faith who have already died, God also provides us with living examples of faith: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). This verse applies to spiritual leaders in the church (pastors and elders) and all spiritual authorities in our lives (Christian parents, teachers, mentors, etc.).

So, let’s not commit the sin of Ham. Rather, let’s take Hebrews 13:7 seriously. Let’s remember those who led us, who spoke the word of God to us (pastors, elders, parents, teachers, mentors, whomever). Let’s consider the result of their conduct – mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, though their conduct may be. Then, let’s imitate their faith. As Calvin aptly put, “Piety towards parents is the mother of all virtues.”

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch