Train up a Child
By Carol Barnier
“We’ve been praying for that girl of yours. It must be hard to watch her stray so far. We’re praying you’ll figure out what went wrong. What item have you missed in the train a child up instructions that caused this sad turn of events.”
Have you had that conversation yet? The one that says there’s a formula for raising children who stay true to the faith and clearly you’ve missed the boat, to the point where your child may not spend eternity with you in heaven?
So what is it that could prompt a caring fellow believer to heap such coals on your head?
Let’s move to the Scripture that gave rise to this idea: Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train a child up in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (KJV).
If you’re like many Christian parents, that verse has been a part of your spiritual reference point for years. You took the instruction seriously and did your best to train these children in the ways of God. And yet, something went awry. You took them to Sunday school. You discussed living as God intended around the dinner table. Didn’t speak one way and live another. You thought you had covered it well. But something went offtrack.
Have you turned to that verse pleading with God to fulfill the promise you’ve been told resides in that verse? How many times did you say, “Lord, I trained her up in the way she should go, but she departed from it. What is that about?”
So the only obvious place to go from here, since God always keeps His promises, is that you did something wrong.
And when we come to such a conclusion, we now carry the excruciating burden of the possibility that we may not see our child’s face in heaven because WE BLEW IT.
I’m sorry that this verse has been so badly abused, and sometimes used to pound on your already tattered hearts as you have cried and prayed over this child. A poor understanding of Proverbs, turns this book into a tool used to beat on grieving parents.
What do we do with a seeming promise that isn’t yet fulfilled? I posed this to a few knowledgeable people and learned how to read Proverbs. I, like so many others, had believed this verse to be a promise.
Proverbs are directions on how we should live. They incorporate truths about the nature of God and mankind. Proverbs are sayings that in general are accurate and full of wisdom, straight from God, but are not intended to be promises.
Do you know anyone who is financially well-off and yet is lazy to the bone? Or some really hardworking people, lovely people, who are nonetheless poor? (Prov. 10:4)
You shouldn’t know either of these.
In fact, it’s downright impossible – that is if all the sayings in Proverbs are to be taken as promises. Don’t misunderstand my purpose in this chapter. I believe Scripture is inspired, including the book of Proverbs. However, there is a difference in proverbs that describe and those that prescribe. A gentle answer doesn’t always turn away wrath (15:10), but in general, it’s better to respond calmly to an angry person. This is an example of a proverb that describes a general truth.
A proverb such as 14:31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God,” prescribes an absolute. God cares for the needy, and we’re to honor Him by doing the same.
So when we hear, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” we have learned something that is wise, that is useful, that is instructive. This is an example of a descriptive proverb. It is full of God’s best for our lives. We should certainly do so to the best of our ability.
But it is not a guarantee, nor was it ever intended to be so, that our child will not “depart from it,” leave the faith, or engage in a harmful lifestyle, even temporarily. You’ve raised this child in the way she should go. You really have done what you were supposed to do. Set down the burden you’ve been carrying and know that you’ve fulfilled your duty. You’ve given her good instruction. You’ve put into her mind and heart truths that she carries with her. But at this point, it’s up to her. As always, God asks that we come to Him willingly, not forcibly.
Now it’s between her and God.