By Dr. James Dobson
Question: You have said that children of godly parents sometimes go into severe rebellion and never return to the faith they were taught. I have seen that happen to some wonderful families who loved the Lord and were committed to the church. Still, it appears contradictory to Scripture. How do you interpret Proverbs 22:6 (KJV), which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”? Doesn’t that verse mean, as it implies, that the children of wise and dedicated Christian parents will never be lost? Doesn’t it promise that all wayward offspring will return, sooner or later, to the fold?
Answer: I wish Solomon’s message to us could be interpreted that definitively. I know that the common understanding of the passage is to accept it as a divine guarantee, but it was not expressed in that context. Psychiatrist John White, writing in his excellent book,Parents in Pain, makes the case that the proverbs were never intended to be absolute promises from God. Instead, they are “probabilities” of things that are likely to occur. Solomon, who wrote the wonderful book of Proverbs, was the wisest man on the earth at that time. His purpose was to convey his divinely inspired observations on the way human nature and God’s universe work. A given set of circumstances can be expected to produce a set of specific consequences. Unfortunately, several of these observations, including Proverbs 22:6, have been lifted out of that context and made to stand alone as promises from God. If we insist on that interpretation, then we must explain why so many other proverbs do not inevitably prove accurate. For example:
We can all think of exceptions to the statements above. To repeat, the proverbs appear to represent likelihoods rather than absolutes with God’s personal guarantee attached.
This interpretation of Scripture is somewhat controversial among laymen, but less so among biblical scholars. For example, Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, prepared by the faculty of the Dallas Theological Seminary, accepts the under- standing I have suggested. This commentary is recognized for its intense commitment to the literal interpretation of God’s Word, yet this is what the theologians wrote.
Some parents, however, have sought to follow this directive but without this result. Their children have strayed from the godly training the parents gave them. This illustrates the nature of a proverb. A proverb is a literary device whereby a general truth is brought to bear on a specific situation. Many of the proverbs are not absolute guarantees, for they express truths that are necessarily conditioned by prevailing circumstances. For example, verses 3, 4, 9, 11, 16, and 29 of Proverbs 22 do not express promises that are always binding. Though the proverbs are generally and usually true, occasional exceptions may be noted. This may be because of the self-will or deliberate disobedience of an individual who chooses to go his own way—the way of folly instead of the way of wisdom. For that he is held responsible. It is generally true, however, that most children who are brought up in Christian homes, under the influence of godly parents who teach and live God’s standards, follow that training.
Those who believe that Proverbs 22:6 offers a guarantee of salvation for the next generation have assumed, in essence, that a child can be programmed so thoroughly as to determine his course inevitably. If they bring him up “in the way he should go,” the outcome is certain. But think about that for a moment. Didn’t the Creator handle Adam and Eve with infinite wisdom and love? He made no mistakes in “fathering” them. They were also harbored in a perfect environment with none of the pressures we face. They had no in-law problems, no monetary needs, no frustrating employers, no television, no pornography, no alcohol or drugs, no peer pressure, and no sorrow. They had no excuses! Nevertheless, they ignored the explicit warning from God and stumbled into sin. If it were ever possible to avoid the ensnarement of evil, it would have occurred in that sinless world. But it didn’t. God in His love gave Adam and Eve a choice between good and evil, and they abused it. Will He now withhold that same freedom from your children? No. Ultimately, they will make their own choices. That time of decision is a breathtaking moment for parents, when everything they have taught appears to be on the line. But it must come for us all.
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About Your Legacy: The Greatest Gift
We live in a culture that seeks to destroy the embryonic faith of our children and usher them into politically correct ideology, godless systems of belief, and gross immorality that would have shocked previous generations. This is what confronts today's Christian parents and many of them are terrified of it. We live in truly perilous times.
But the good news is there is a way you can be victorious in this battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of your precious children. Whatever stage you are in as a parent or grandparent, you can leave a spiritual legacy that will equip your children and grandchildren with an unshakable heritage of faith. YOUR LEGACY tells you how by presenting:
How can you teach your children what matters most? It is by being intentional about their spiritual training. YOUR LEGACY will help you make that the central priority of your family.
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Dr. James Dobson is the Founder and President of Family Talk, a nonprofit organization that produces his radio program, “Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.” He is the author of more than 30 books dedicated to the preservation of the family, including The New Dare to Discipline; Love for a Lifetime; Life on the Edge; Love Must Be Tough; The New Strong-Willed Child; When God Doesn’t Make Sense; Bringing Up Boys; Marriage Under Fire; Bringing Up Girls; and, most recently, Head Over Heels.
Dr. Dobson served as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine for 14 years and on the attending staff of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for 17 years. He has been active in governmental affairs and has advised three U.S. presidents on family matters. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California (1967) in the field of child development. He holds 17 honorary doctoral degrees, and was inducted in 2008 into The National Radio Hall of Fame. Dr. Dobson recently received the “Great American Award” from The Awakening.
Dr. Dobson is married to Shirley and they have two grown children, Danae and Ryan, and two grandchildren. The Dobsons reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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