by Kevin Pauley
He also said: "A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.' So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. - Luke 15:11-13 HCSB
It’s true that parents carry a great deal of responsibility in regards to their children’s upbringing. We should not provoke our children to anger through abusive, inconsistent or hypocritical behavior. Instead, we should provide them with the best discipline and training we can offer, bringing them up in the Lord’s Way so that Scriptural principles will always be with them, guiding them as they struggle through life on their own.
But parents are not the only ones with responsibility. Each person (including our children) must decide what to do with the training they’ve received. Just as parents of righteous children cannot take full credit for their children’s good deeds, parents of adult children who have strayed from the Way must quit taking full responsibility for the child's misbehavior. The child made the choices, and he has to suffer the consequences of his behavior.
The Prodigal’s righteous father had two sons that we can assume were raised in a similar manner. Only one openly rebelled. This demonstrates that each child is an individual who can choose to follow their parents’ teaching or not.
I've known many godly people with a wayward child. Was the believer to blame? In each case, there were several children in the family. All the children were raised with the same values. Only one chose to ignore them. Don’t be so arrogant as to think you alone of all human parents can raise perfect children. Even God the perfect Father has wayward children. Can you do better than Yahweh?
There are numerous biblical examples of good parents who have had wicked children. King Jotham did right in the sight of the Lord. Nevertheless, his son, King Ahaz, chose to follow idols and became so wicked that he burnt his own son as an offering to these idols. These two passages show us that a good and righteous parent who humanly makes some mistakes may end up having a wicked child. But for every good parent who has a bad child, we also see many bad parents who have good kids. This shows us that parents do bear some responsibility, but not all.
You may ask, but what of Proverbs 22:6’s promise that a properly raised child will not depart from the Way? Carefully consider the verse. It doesn’t say they’ll never reject it. It says “even when he is old”, that is “at the point that they reach maturity”, he will not depart.
The Bible is not so naïve as to say that we are just robots that respond to input the same way every time. The Bible gives room for individuality, for free will. The Teacher is simply acknowledging the well-known psychological principle that we tend to fall back on the lessons that we learned as children. We may temporarily stray as we try new approaches, but a child who is raised well will TEND to come back to those ways.
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Kevin Pauley is a pastor and writer. He lives in Illinois with his wife, Lynn, their five children and two dogs. His internet address is Berea.
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