The premarital counseling that Lauren and I participated in was not the typical sort. It was recommended to us to meet with a series of couples of varying ages and stages in life and to receive from them a variety of advice on marriage.
In this process, we heard a lot of ideas on parenting. Everyone was affected by the generation in which they first had children, and everyone had a nuance for how they disciplined. There is a certain methodology, though, that no one mentioned—one that all my life I’ve heard whispers of and seen implemented.
There is a belief in some wings of Christianity that if you raise your child right, then your child will turn out all right. And stemming from that belief is the logical contrapositive, that if your child does not turn out all right, then you did not raise your child right. There are many Christians that hold firmly to these truths—like laws written in stone—that the state of a child is equative with the work the parents did. They ground their belief in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” and they treat it as commandment.
The last conversation Lauren and I had as a part of our premarital counseling was with her grandparents—on her father’s side. Lauren’s father struggled with a serious drug-addiction during a formative time in Lauren’s childhood and has been absent for a large portion of her life. The damage he has done is self-evident, and his actions, Lauren’s grandparents were told, were largely the result of his parenting. If there are any two individuals that I can be confident were godly and caring parents, it is the parents of Lauren’s father.
Yet I sat at their kitchen table and watched the tears crawl down Lauren’s grandmother’s face after being asked—by those who look up to her—for her wisdom on childrearing.
Interpreting the Bible in such a way that righteous people are made to feel shame—to read Proverbs as saying that a troubled person is always and unequivocally the result of bad parenting—is unpardonable. This biblicist methodology is irresponsible and sinful. Most clearly, it ignores biblical genre. Biblical proverbs (prevalent even outside of the book named for them) are not the same as commandments. Proverbs, as the definition states, are for general use. They are not iron, theological truths, but pieces of wisdom that tend to help. They say: this is often the case, but it may not always be the case. They allow for parents to do their job right, and the child to be rotten; for the parents to shirk their duties, and the child to overcome.
We have caused a lot of heartache by demanding a certain reading of that text. Some may say that the Bible “said what it meant, and meant what it said,” and I guess that is true. But it brings in a perception completely backwards for faithfully interpreting Scripture. Reading the Bible is hard work, not something to be taken lightly—the soul is at stake. We must approach the divine revelation with reverence and awe and awareness of the task before us.