The Christian Parent
Children, A Gift from God
Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me.—Isaiah 8:18, NIV
Among many awesome things that humans experience, and which must not .be taken for granted, are childbirth and child rearing.
Though over the millennia of human history the same process of causing and bringing a child into the world has been in effect, it always amazes the minds of those who experience it. How fantastic it is that a new organism is formed from two donors, resembling them and their ancestors, yet formed in such a different way. The increase of knowledge of the past century has allowed man to look into all the formative stages of a fetus and even gain insights into microscopic issues of genetics. The same superbly detailed design of God’s creation of a human being is repeated over and over again, though custom made, and delivered into the hands of the amazed parents. The baby arrives without an instruction manual and the parents know their experience will be as unique as the new baby’s fingerprints.
Becoming a parent is both an awesome and sobering experience. It is awesome because a new child becomes so much a part of our lives. It defines and redefines our perspective on life and its priorities. We admire children as they display their first smile, say their first words, or take their first steps. We love how others love them and we feel ourselves esteemed when our children are recognized.
It is sobering because despite the complete “participation and ownership” that we as parents have in a child, we know our children are not us; they are new persons given to us by the Creator. From this perspective the opposite of “ownership” is true: though the task of bringing them up is given to us, they are God’s because he created them through us with hardly any merit on our part. As recipients of this miracle we have a responsibility to guide and bring them into the world, prepared for all that is waiting out there for them.
We also see generosity and sharing on the Creator’s part: he allows us to have a parenting experience while he holds the same parental role and title toward all people (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 64:8).
When the earth is filled at the “fullness of times” in the “age to come” where they neither marry nor give in marriage, the experience of parenting and the stage of childhood will be a thing of the past. Therefore the upbringing of a child is very much a privilege of the current stage of the development of mankind and has a role that teaches qualities such as love, selflessness, responsibility, discipline, as well as planned provision for sustenance and shelter.
The teachings of Jesus bring to greater focus the close parental relationship of God toward us than previously emphasized in the Old Testament. He showed that we should address God as our “Father in heaven,” that God in his goodness is pleased to give his children the “good gift” of the holy spirit. Through Jesus believers may refer to God as their very close father (Galatians 4:6).
Filling in the Blanks in the Christian Way
A one-time prevailing view in child psychology was that a child is born with a “tabula rasa,” or blank slate, for personality and character; the ultimate result to be determined only by external influences. In the light of the Scriptures, this view would have to be balanced with the implications of inherited sin (Psalm 51:5; Job 14:4) that are manifested in genetic, physical, and mental predispositions. We also know that when proportionately untainted by active evil influences, a child’s nature is characterized by an outright goodness, and that it progressively succumbs to the evils of the present world. The surrounding environment does greatly influence the process of a child’s learning.
It is, by design, the role of those closest to a child—the parents—to use direct and indirect input; their influence will provide the decisive weight on the direction a child takes in life. In the case of believers, this is an opportunity and a responsibility to pass on the teaching and example of thinking, speaking, and living in the way God has identified for his children.
Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk
A new parent soon realizes that children observe and imitate the parents. A child feels secure in repeating the patterns of behavior and attitude observed in adults; this is how a child’s own behavior forms. But children also imitate those behaviors parents may not like in themselves. We do well to remember the biblical teaching that the true image of a person originates in the heart (Luke 6:45). To the extent we are true and dedicated in our hearts to what we profess verbally, we will be an effective example for even young children.
If we were to only provide an example of living by our behavior, the picture would be far from complete, because, due to our imperfections, children are likely to repeat our own weaknesses.
The apostle provides the solution when he tells us: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Just as he points to Jesus as the ultimate, perfect example to follow, we also need a stronger motivator for our children than just our own example. This motivating effect will come from the introduction of our children to God whom we serve: his rules, his character, and his design for man as described in the Bible. The Scriptures assure us that this is a worthwhile effort: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Such an introduction will build in a child a conviction that the moral values and aspirations that we hold as Christians are based on a solid foundation of an entire system of values as revealed in the Scriptures. As children grow and become independent, they will turn to that source for instructions. Their knowledge will grow independently and they will find answers to new questions parents may have never faced.
The Scriptures enjoin a persistency and determination with which God’s word and its import should be reviewed and remembered: “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7). Timothy’s familiarity with the Bible from a young age is pointed out as a life-saving quality by Paul: “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Let us consider some of the valuable lessons that should be taught to the children from the Bible.
Now, more than ever, the world has become a place of relative moral values. The standards that historically Christian societies upheld concerning family models, purity, and integrity are being challenged and subverted with skillful justifications, insulated from truth by a selfish and depraved culture (2 Timothy 3:1-3; 4:3,4). When children naturally turn to their parents and expect quite specific guidance and direction, it may seem difficult to provide a decisive answer without second-guessing oneself as to the possible modern challenges. It is important for parents to prayerfully consider the standards established by God for the benefit of mankind as described in the Scriptures.
Although those standards are not considered popular now, they precede our modern world and have been issued by the Source of Life. It is very important that we take time to think on the importance of each of the ten great commandments which God wrote with his own hand, and that we understand his greatest commandment (love) which he so powerfully taught by giving us his only begotten son. It is an opportunity for parents to also display obedience to the Creator and thus show an example of submission to him. As “vessels of clay” we are not in a position to challenge the rules that he put in place (Romans 9:19-21). We, and our children, will be rewarded when we prayerfully seek to understand why they were established and how to obey them.
Although “correctness” is often defined by what satisfies self and what feels good, Christian parents should emphasize the false nature of this perspective, not only by verbal statements but by being an example of service to those in need, offering compassion and help to the less fortunate, and giving up personal and sometimes family comfort to offer love to those who need it.
Permission of Evil
Among the questions that at one time or another knock at the door of every believer, is the question of the obvious disparity between the character of a loving and benevolent God, as portrayed in the Bible, and the apparent unwillingness and inaction on his part to prevent the evils of life such as natural disasters, wars, violence, diseases, and the like. It is a question the growing mind of a child will pose sooner or later. When taken in a correctly integrated manner, the Bible contains a powerful and overwhelmingly satisfying answer to this question. God permits evil because it has a teaching purpose for his creation; he permits injustice because he has given mankind collectively and individually the freedom of choice and honors this freedom and its consequences over time. He is also patient and allows those who are and those who are not yet his children to make mistakes and learn by the consequences. The time on his clock will come, and is very near, when this phase of mankind’s learning will be brought to a completion, when through the Christ and his bride, he will administer a review of these lessons. With their powerful impact and the blessing of resurrection, all people will have an opportunity to accept his salvation freely and live forever in his earthly kingdom. Even though Satan will be bound and “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my [God’s] holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9), God will remain a God of freedom. Through his temporary permission of evil, he will achieve a most effective result: he will cause a thirst for his life-giving law to be written on the heart of anyone who is thirsty (Jeremiah 31:33; Revelation 22:17).
Similarly, each parent has the opportunity to practice this skill of wise patience and permission toward some errors or disobedience from children. If we are learning anything from our heavenly Father’s teaching, it should be that theoretical knowledge is often insufficient to learn a lesson. The practical experience of making wrong (or right) choices and of learning the consequences, after theoretical instruction has a powerfully educating effect. Yet how hard it is to release control of a dearly-loved, erring child! How deep is the wisdom to know the difference between when to intervene and when to let an evil play out. May we, as parents, be guided by him who has inspired us by example.
In the process of filling in the “clean slate” of a two- or three-year-old, there is a period of asking questions. They come often, in good and bad times, and are sometimes a trial to the patience of parents. Parents should encourage a child’s questions at any age. As they grow and observe more of the world and its issues, their questions are usually signs of a desire for harmony between what is known and what has been newly observed. Our Creator made us with an inborn curiosity, and he expects it to motivate us to ask about what he is like and how he views things from his perspective. Examples of inquisitive persons in the Bible and God’s approval of their inquiries are numerous: Joshua 4:6; Isaiah 1:18; Daniel 9:23; Zephaniah 2:3; Acts 8:31. Parents should take pleasure in and the time to satisfy the curiosity of children, and it may become a learning opportunity for parents. As time goes on many questions will relate to spiritual aspects of life, God, or the explanations of Scripture. Our own path of searching for God should be remembered and we should patiently allow for the same growth process in children. Despite our best efforts, some things can only be learned by experience, supported by theoretical knowledge.
Many have undoubtedly made inquiry into God’s justice and love and have, through various experiences like Paul, “judged, that if one [Christ] died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). This finding causes them to give their all to the Lord and they continue to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to him (Romans 12:1). For those who are parents, it is a sweet hope to hear some day another question voiced by their child, an echo of one asked at the beginning of the Christian way: “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36).
Much is heard today of self-esteem and how treacherously the fallen character and dysfunctional family situations affect a child’s ability to recognize self-worth. Low self-esteem is in turn at the basis of depressive tendencies which breed trouble for the person and in turn to succeeding generations. As an attempt to compensate for that danger, positive feedback and praise are being broadly recommended to boost self-esteem, sometimes regardless of real effort. It is a challenge to rightly judge the efforts of a child, and awkwardly, the parent is a candidate for the best or worst judge, depending on the standards they impose on themselves. Once again divine wisdom and strength are greatly desirable to undo the falsehood that sin has imposed on our own self-image, and to keep a correct perspective on our children’s true efforts.
The Scriptural way is one of truth, mercy, and encouragement. The Scriptures clearly designate a path of true humility. We read that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Paul writes that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). However, he continues, “but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” He also states that he does not judge “mine own self” (1 Corinthians 4:3). True judgment, both for others and for ourselves, belongs to the Lord. In formulating our own evaluations, we should follow his standards, but always allow for error. We should take a combined view of abilities and efforts, together with imperfections and need of forgiveness. Just as God is holy and perfect, so we should strive to be like him. Just as God forgave us in Christ, so we should forgive others (and ourselves). Very importantly, when he forgives us, he demonstrates that he is interested in our good, that he loves us as we are, and that he has faith in us because we have faith in his son (John 12:26). By analogy parental encouragement is an indication of interest, observation, sensitivity, and belief in a child’s abilities. Many apply these according to the words of Isaiah: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (Isaiah 42:3).
In today’s world, and especially in developed societies, it is easy to forget about the misfortunes of others in less favorable circumstances, and live a relatively careless life looking toward our own bright future. The popular media projects of a comfortable life style which encourages both materialism and a lower moral standard. This is a challenge to the parents’ own perspective and it will likely also be so to the children. While one should not scare, traumatize, or cause guilt feelings in children if they are experiencing more fortunate circumstances, there is much in the Scriptures about cultivating thoughts of thankfulness for the grace in which we stand (see also Proverbs 3:5 and Romans 5:2), teaching efficient use of resources, humble sharing of our plenty with others, and upholding the spirit of contentment. We are like grass and vapor (Psalm 90:5; James 4:14); our only hope is in God’s provision of redemption through his son.
Nourishing Natural and Spiritual Life
Our heavenly Father has prepared this beautiful earth as a habitation for mankind, where he provides the sunlight, water, food, shelter, and health. He admonishes parents to also provide for their families and children (Matthew 5:45; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). But since “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), so we are fed by our Father in heaven with words of life. These words must develop and strengthen our inner man, the spiritual new creature, and nourish us as we grow in grace and knowledge. We are to receive his word deeply into our hearts and rather than denying the power of godliness, receive it as the power to become the sons of God (John 1:12). We cultivate our faith by meditating on his word, prayer, and the mutual upbuilding of one another in the Christian fellowship. In all these activities, our children should be included and have an active and vital part. May we impress upon them our true priority and goal: to be with Christ who is our life. May they see that our strength comes from knowing him, and may they grow with us in his grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).