Tuesday, August 27, 2013

God and our kids

If you want to stir things up, make a statement about parenting. If you really want some controversy in your life, make a statement about Christian parenting. Here’s hoping this post doesn’t call down a hornet’s nest upon me because I do want to say something about Christian parenting.

One thing I’ve been chewing over lately, is whether you can parent in such a way as to guarantee the outcome. The key word there is guarantee. I think the answer is no, for reasons I’ll point out in a minute. The spark for this thinking was a blog post I read a while ago on Femina. Now, the Femina writers come out of the Federal Vision theology movement so I’m not fully on board with all of their views but a lot of their stuff on motherhood is really very, very helpful. However, it was this blog post – July 9: Simple, but not easy – that got me scratching my head. I’ve read the article several times now and thus I hope I’m not misrepresenting the views of its author but it seems to suggest that God promises believers that their children will be believers also. Here’s the section I’m talking about:
The point is that God makes promises to His people regarding their children. Believe them! I can see it with my own eyes now, so it isn’t my faith that is seeing it. But my faith has been enlarged as a result of seeing His faithfulness to me and to my children and to my grandchildren.
We serve a God of great glory and goodness. He loves our children. He loves to see our children brought up faithfully to love and serve Him. He loves to promise us our children. And He loves it when we believe Him. I guess it is simple. But it’s not easy.
So does God promise our children will also be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus? Well, I am a minister’s daughter so I’ve known a good few Christian families in my time and I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that not all kids raised in good Christian families will go on to love and serve the Lord. I don’t think anyone’s fainting from surprise as a result of that revelation. So, if that’s the case, we are left with only three logical options:

A. God does promise believers their children will believe, but he also breaks his promises quite a bit.

B. God does promise that, but only some Christians parent well enough to earn the benefits of those promises.

C. God doesn’t promise that all children of believers will be believers. Some people have read stuff into the Bible that they shouldn’t have.

Greater minds than I have agonized over this issue and I certainly don’t claim great theological knowledge but for what it’s worth, let me tell you what I think is going on.

Firstly, I don’t think it’s Option A. If it is, I want out. God is not God if he doesn’t deliver on what he says he will. And I guess that’s why some Christian folk, who have firmly believed that God makes iron-clad promises about parenting, have walked away when their families have fallen apart despite all their efforts. I do think God keeps his promises – always, every time – so let’s cross this one off the list.

Let’s turn then to Option B. Whether people would be willing to admit it or not, I think many, many Christians believe in Option B. Which would explain why sometimes there can be a lot of smugness exhibited by families whose kids do present the model Christian image and conversely explains the judgmental whispers about families whose kids turn away from the faith and the accompanying pain and shame for the parents of those kids.

In the case of the Option B family, God’s call of salvation is dependent on whether the parents are doing a good enough job of raising their kids according to the Scriptures. The parents are saved by faith but the kids are going to be saved by faith and good parenting! I don’t think that fits with what the Bible says about salvation. The Bible does command parents to raise their children well, to teach them the truths of Scripture and so on. But this does not bring about salvation. Salvation is entirely God’s own gracious work and it is not dependent on the work of man.

Option B also gets wobbly when you introduce some real-life examples. Let’s say Mary and Scott spent 20 years raising little Jeannie, Freddie and Sammie to love Jesus. While Jean and Fred, now young adults, are still believers and faithfully raising their own family in the church, Sam has decided he wants none of it and has totally renounced his commitment to Christ. What’s happen there in the Option B scenario? How do we get an outcome that’s different for one kid who has been raised in the same home, with the same parents, as the other two? Were Mary and Scott only two-thirds faithful to God’s instructions? Did God weigh it up and say, “Well, you haven’t done too badly but not quite what I’d hoped. I’m grading you a C+”?

There are plenty of Christian families in which the situation has played out just this way. I know from my own first-hand observation that the parents did an outstanding job of sharing the gospel with their kids and raising them to know the Bible. And yet, not every child from that home continued in the faith. And when we come to look at the examples of Biblical families we see just that very thing happening all over the place in the history of the Bible! Godly parents did not always manage to raise godly offspring. Likewise, ungodly parents did not prevent their children from growing up to seek God.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not for a moment saying that how we parent doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal and we ought to seek to glorify God in doing it. But I don’t think our theology, our Biblical history or our real life experience hold up the idea that God gives a guarantee that “good” parents will get godly kids or that there is some set of illusive parenting ninja skills that will guarantee you pass the heavenly parenting test so that all your kids will trust in Jesus.

So I think the answer is Option C. God’s word does tell us (and Proverbs is where we find a lot of this) that certain behaviour is likely to lead in predictable directions. God’s word commands us to raise our kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But a promise of success is not given for the simple reason that success is not in our hands to deliver.

I think an illustration of all of this might help make the point clearer. When a farmer sows his seed, he usually does a lot of things to try to help that crop along. Maybe he’s ploughed up the ground and prepared the soil. He probably fertilizes it, waters it and keeps the weeds from growing. He’s takes care to plant at the right time in the season and he’s heavily invested in seeing this crop grow well. Now, in the normal course of things, that farmer can expect to see a good crop. Certainly, he is going to expect more than if he’d just wandered out to a patch of ground one day, thrown a bag of seed around, left it be for a couple of months and hoped for the best. So all that work is important and the farmer knows he should do that if he wants the best for his crop.

But he can’t make that crop grow. He can stand beside his rows and sing or shout or plead and it will have no effect on the outcome whatsoever. He is totally reliant on God’s grace in providing that crop, despite all his work. And most times, he’ll see a good harvest. But sometimes a great calamity will strike a crop. The day before the farmer plans to harvest, a hail storm will pound his produce into the mud. A plague of locusts will come over the horizon and eat every stalk. Or whatever. And despite his work, there is no crop. It is not because he hasn’t farmed well any more than he could claim the credit when the hail did not fall on his crop the year before. It is God who calls the shots at the end of the day. And sometimes, God does not do the things we expect. God is sovereign and he alone writes the story of our lives. He does not give parents the ability to write their children’s days for them. You plant, you sow, and you commit them to God. And you rejoice in his mercy if they come to faith and you pray till you reach glory if they haven’t.

So that’s my two-cents’ worth on the matter. Here’s a helpful link if you’d like to chew on the ideas a bit further: ‘Broken homes in the Bible’ by Richard Pratt Jr. And if you’ve got two-cents you’d like to add, join in with a comment by all means.


Meredith said...

Thanks for this post and for all the work and thought behind it.

I think there is great freedom in realizing, as for evangelism beyond the home, that it isn't up to us. It is all up to God.

I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I suddenly realized that I had grown up in a lovely home but I didn't have the Bible read to me every day, I didn't learn memory verses and there were no devotions after dinner. Mum and Dad did take us to Sunday School (although they didn't attend church themselves) and Mum would say the "Now I lay me down to bed" prayer with us most nights when we were little. But really there wasn't a great deal of Christian formation going on. But God drew me to Himself even so, despite the lack of input on the home front. And here I am, a growing, flourishing (mostly) Christian.

Which is not to say that as a Christian parent I then abrogate my responsibilities and leave it up to God. But I think my responsibility is to live out my faith, seek to be godly, show that regular Bible reading, prayer and church attendance is important and keep them well held in our prayers then, we then have to let them go into the big wide world, entrusting them to God.

I actually find that so very liberating. It means I just get to be busy trying to live out my faith while I am being a parent (which will certainly form the decisions I make along the way) and that is all that is required of me. It puts a stop to over-performing.

As you say, ultimately it is not our decision. It is God's. And we have to trust that He will deal with our children, and ourselves, in His perfect wisdom. Amen to that.

Deb said...

Thanks, Meredith. That perspective is really helpful! I like the way you use the term "over-performing". That's a great summation of that desire to be super-spiritual in the hope of parenting our kids into faith instead of our actions coming naturally out of our own sincere faith.

Karen said...

Great post Deb. I'm away from home this week with only the iPod to look at the net on, and it's really hard to type on this! I'll try to post more of a comment next week when I'm home again :)

Deb said...

I'd love to hear when you have time to post another comment. Thanks, Karen.

Sarah said...

Thanks for that post, Deb. it's one I'll no doubt be referring to in years to come when I'm faced with these issues. My pastor said recently that Christian parents with adult unbelieving children do their children a disservice by refusing to admit their children aren't following Christ and treating their kids like they're Christians. They say stuff like, "Oh but they prayed a prayer when they were 12", or, "They were baptised," but the children are clearly following their own path. It's better to admit the truth, however painful...and pray.