Does God expect me to honor my parents after what they did to me?
This is a difficult question to address in such an impersonal way, that is, via the web. At the center of a question like this there is a person, a real person, and very likely a hurting person. Nevertheless, we will do our best to address this important and heart-felt question.
We should begin by noting that the 5th commandment does require that one’s father and mother be treated with “honor.” So the short answer to the question is: yes. After all, these are the 10 Commandments, not 10 Suggestions. A command is, well, a command.
Now, having answered the question in a basic manner, let us consider what is at the heart of a question like this.
God designed and intended the family to be a happy and God-centered institution. He established the family in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. “God made them male and female.” Moreover, He commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply,” that is, to have children. So the family is a divine institution. This divine institution was created by God to be a showcase of His love on earth. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Paul here envisions the husband and wife relationship—the foundation of the family—as a relationship of absolute selflessness, love, and harmony. Sadly, this is not the case in many families.
When God’s love and God’s law are not the centerpiece of a family, then it is altogether possible, even likely, that the home will characterized by pain, difficulty, and emotional conflict. God’s law is like a guardrail that prevents us from careening off the road of life into the abyss below. Many families disregard the guardrail of God’s law and thus invite potential disaster.
Perhaps your family is one of those.
It should be noted, before proceeding, that even Christian homes can become places of pain, difficulty, and emotional conflict. This is doubly sad, as the message received by the children of this kind of home is that Christianity does not work. Nothing could be further form the truth!
If your parents have hurt you, abused you, or not supported you as they should, it is likely that they are simply reflecting the way their parents treated them. These vicious cycles of abuse, neglect, and emotional pain often continue in families for generation after painful generation.
The only solution is for someone to break out of that vicious cycle, and to create a new family legacy of love, caring, and support. And that takes at least two things: forgiveness and God’s grace. You must forgive your parents for their failures. Even if they have been abusive, unkind, and hurtful, you must forgive them. This is as much for you as it is for them.
This forgiveness is a real forgiveness that is borne out of an awareness that God has forgiven you for your failures and unkindness to others. It is borne out of an appreciation and acceptance of the Cross of Jesus Christ. You realize that you are the recipient of an undeserved forgiveness, of underserved grace! You realize that you are a sinner, and that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross!
God can empower you to forgive others—even your parents—just as He has forgiven you! When you forgive someone, you are liberated from the bondage of a bad situation in a very real way. You are deciding, by God’s power, that you will not be a slave to circumstances, that you will not be a slave to what others have done to you, that you will not let them have a power over you, your emotions, your family, your growth as a person, and your growth in grace.
After forgiveness, comes honor. If God can give you the power to forgive—and He can—then He can also give you the power to obey His commandments, including the 5th Commandment to honor your father and your mother! Believe it!
Think of it this way: on the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” When Jesus said, “they know not what they do”, he was saying that they didn’t understand the gravity and significance of what they were doing. So too with your parents, they did not know how big their failures were. They did not understand how badly they would hurt you. It is the very rare parent who is purposefully cruel to his or her child. Yet even these can be forgiven and honored!
Jesus forgave His own murderers, but more than this, according to the Bible, Jesus will honor redeemed sinners by letting them sit with Him on His throne and reign with Him! See, for example, Revelation 3:21 and 5:9, 10. And here is a critical point: we are all responsible for putting Jesus on the cross. Sin sent Him to the cross, my sin and yours.
Yet we are forgiven. And honored.
Jesus, through His illimitable power and grace, can empower you to forgive and, yes, even to honor those who have wronged, hurt, abused, or despised you—even if it was your parents. In forgiving them and honoring them, you are set free from what is likely a vicious cycle of family dysfunction. Jesus said, “If the Son shall make free, you shall be free indeed”!