MISUNDERSTOOD VERSES #4
Upon first read, this one seems to promise that if parents check all the right boxes for raising happy, productive, and godly offspring, then by golly, it’s a sure-fired guarantee that their adult children will be pillars of Christian society. No pressure.
This verse turns into ammunition for judgement. Christian parent with a rebellious child? What did you do wrong? I’ve been the recipient of this kind of guilt tripping, and I know I’m not alone. It’s not usually quite so obvious, but comes through in subtle barbs:
- “I’m so glad I was called to homeschool my kids so I could protect them from the world. The home must be like a greenhouse to nurture delicate souls.”
- “My kids earned the Timothy trophy at AWANA for memorizing all the Bible verses from pre-K to 5th grade.”
- It’s such a blessing to have raised my kids in church. Did you know they’re all in ministry now?”
- “Private Christian school is affordable for everyone. You just have to be willing to make the sacrifices.”
- “Y’all we need to pray for the [insert name] family. Their child is [gay/an addict/a runaway/a gang member/ arrested/a republican/a democrat– whatever]. I wonder what happened at home? They always seemed so plugged in to church.
- “I just don’t understand why the children of Israel kept turning to idols. Didn’t their parents teach them what God did?
- and on and on and on
There are several problems with interpreting this passage as a recipe for parenting prowess. The first (and possibly most important) is that this is a proverb, not a promise. Generally speaking, kids grow up (eventually) to reflect the things they learned and experienced as kids. BUT, every reader of this post knows someone who broke generational curses of abuse or anger. And I’ll bet every reader also knows someone who turned their backs on every biblical principle they learned at home. Proverbs are generalizations, not predictions.
Secondly, adult children are responsible for their life choices. The role of parent, especially in our culture, is to teach and release. Of course it’s good to continually pray for those adult children who turn away from what parents tried to teach. Of course mommy and daddy hearts break when adult children choose paths that may well lead to destruction. But parents need grace, not guilt. And so do the prodigals.
Thirdly, this is a fallen world. There are no perfect parents. Sometimes adult children turn out well in spite of not because of their parents. Others may have had every opportunity to hear the Lord and still choose otherwise. Still others are on a journey that no one fully understands. Matthew Henry said of this passage that “it is to be hoped, they will not depart from it.” He further wrote,
Ordinarily the vessel retains the savour with which it was first seasoned. Many indeed have departed from the good way in which they were trained up; Solomon himself did so. But early training may be a means of their recovering themselves, as it is supposed Solomon did. At least the parents will have the comfort of having done their duty and used the means.The Henry Commentaries
Parents need others to share the burden of uncertainty. Parents need to be commended for their responses, especially when relationships are tenuous. Grace comes by listening, not avoiding. Grace comes by loving those adult children enough to build relationships, not shun. Grace comes by recognizing we are all equally broken before the Holiness of God. Grace is not “there but for the grace of God go I,” but is rather, “He gives more grace” (James 4:6).
In short, the truth is this: We as parents do not save our children. Only the Holy Spirit can mold the heart of a human to accept and reflect the love of the Father in Christ.