Are You Afraid or Poking the Bear?

 

I have a confession and a bit of repentance to do. You see a few weeks back I came across this “Open Letter to a Trapped Wife.” Douglas Wilson addresses a woman who feels her pastors are not disciplining her husband for his anger promptly enough. He talks about the necessity of due process and witnesses then gives this bit of pastoral wisdom:

I have seen situations where everybody in the family claimed to be afraid of the angry bear with a temper problem, but nobody appeared to have the slightest concern about his views, opinions, decisions, or values. But this made me wonder — if everyone was so afraid of the angry bear — why they all kept poking him with their sticks. They claimed fear so that they could use it as another weapon against someone they did not like, and did not respect, but actual fear was absent. I have seen other situations where the family was genuinely paralyzed by actual fear, and spent all day every day walking on egg shells.

His words struck my heart. You see growing up my father and I had a rocky relationship. I viewed him as an angry dad minus any significant history. I regularly poked the bear and would use the resultant outburst to say, “See! See! He’s an unrepentant angry bear. Woe is me!”

The arrow sunk in deeper on a second read,

“But this made me wonder — if everyone was so afraid of the angry bear — why they all kept poking him with their sticks. They claimed fear so that they could use it as another weapon against someone they did not like, and did not respect, but actual fear was absent.”

After all these years, I saw my actions for what they were. I was never afraid of the bear. I enjoyed poking the bear. Now let me say this. My father and I have since made amends. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and spending time with him as adult. I love doing home repairs with my dad. I’ve learned during this time, that despite my former view of my dad as an angry dad minus any significant history, he is a complex person (like we all are) and has a history with lots of sin, pain, and suffering. He has hurts and wounds that I knew nothing of growing up.

I say all of that to say: Even with my former repentance in hand, I repent more. I repent of not honoring my father and also manipulating the weakness of a brother in Christ to produce more sin. I thank God that the Lord is slow to anger and merciful and that he keeps his promise for a thousand generations. I thank God that started with my father and now lives on in his grandchildren.

I also want to admonish children or parents—don’t stop repenting and don’t stop being suspicious of your own hearts. Relationships are rarely linear. They are more like a spiderweb. We all have history and hurts and sins committed and received. We must recognize there are no villains only the hearts of all humans set towards sin—some repent of that sin and some do not. If you are constantly pointing out how others are the problem, there’s a good chance you may be a high priest in the temple of self-delusion.

 

Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.