Reading Kings and Chronicles is hardly a cheery venture. It is largely an unmitigated stream of, “And so-and-so did evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.” This is not surprising to us, however, as we expect the fruit to not fall too far from the tree. Of course wicked kings produce wicked princes.
The really troubling part is that we don’t see the same being true on the other side. Hezekiah and Josiah, two good kings, don’t produce good progeny. Even David is questionable in this regard. Solomon is wise and builds the temple, but instead of finishing his life strong, we see him led astray by his multitudinous wives. And David’s other sons are even worse.
All of this is not what we want to read as a parent. We like to cling to Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” But with so many counterexamples to this proverb, we must wonder if the author had any kids of his own.
Why does being raised in a religious home seem to be no guarantee of carrying the faith forward? Of course some do; I have met a few third-generation pastors in my life. But I have met just as many with pastoral parentage who have strayed from the faith.
As parents, we want an iron-clad way to ensure our kids grow up to be the way we think they ought to be, even though no such means exist. We are doomed to do our best and then watch free will and outside influences take their toll.
This is not all bad. Sometimes children from nominally Christian homes decide to actually take the faith seriously. We kid ourselves if we think we could produce a perfect next generation “if only….” We tend to parent against who we were as kids and teens.
We forget that having children isn’t just about their sanctification, it is also about ours. On many occasions, when struggling with my own kids, I have been pricked by the Holy Spirit for treating both my earthly father and my heavenly Father the same way, or worse. We see our own arrogance, disobedience, and apathy toward God reflected in our children. While it frustrates us that our efforts aren’t bearing the fruit we desire, it should also remind us that God probably feels the same way about us.
There has been a lot of talk about various kinds of privilege in our society recently. While it would seem that privilege, in terms of some advantageous condition during our youth, should set us up for a better chance of success, it is no guarantee. Rehoboam had the wisest dad ever and he turned out to be a poor ruler of Israel and was soon left with only Judah.
We should also remember there is good, and we look at it too infrequently. It is what one of my friends refers to as the “broken tile” problem. Walk into a large room with ceiling tiles and where do we fixate? On the broken or stained one, overlooking all the perfectly normal tiles. Sometimes we do the same with our kids. We fixate on their faults (or what we perceive as faults) to the exclusion of their virtues.
There is no guarantee in parenting and that is by God’s design. If baptism and catechism magically granted us perfect children, we would be given to pride, thinking we had done something great. As it is, our children’s wanderings and idiosyncrasies give us cause for humility, and return us to our Father in repentance and prayer.