My last post reminded me of a couple of biblical examples that spoke volumes to me about the subject of Christian parenting.
The story of Eli and his sons is the first one (1 Samuel 2:20-36). Eli’s sons were priests and spent the majority of their time abusing their privileges in self-serving ways. No one would consider them “nice, well-mannered young men.” They were first class jerks. This passage often makes it into parenting seminars as an example of a gluttonous, lazy, and personally undisciplined father and the havoc that his lack of restraint causes. The inference is clear: Eli’s sons were horrible because Eli was a bad father. I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who, upon hearing about the inappropriate behavior of their children, are washed over with guilt because of the actions of their offspring. And it doesn’t matter the age – the child could be forty years old and still the parents feel they are responsible in some way. The church often reinforces those stereotypes, as if the personal humiliation isn’t enough on its own.
But here’s another biblical example we don’t talk about that much: the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 8). Do you know about his kids? They were just as bad as Eli’s – possibly worse! In fact, their injustice and willingness to take bribes is what casued the Israelites to want Saul for a king. That may explain why Samuel was so against it. Even as Saul is being appointed over Israel (12:1-4), Samuel is still carrying on about his sons still being available to judge Israel – as if they are a better choice than Saul. By all Christian standards, Samuel is what a parent should be: a mighty man of God, modeling service and sacrifice to God on a daily basis. Someone to be admired and imitated. Yet, his sons reject his example, despite his efforts to influence them for the better. By chapter 12, it’s obvious that Samuel thinks a king is a bad idea – but more importantly, he’s so blind to his own children’s behavior that he actually thinks they are still qualified to govern Israel.
Okay, Sam, so what’s your point? Well, it’s essentially what I said in the earlier post. Good parenting is not about cause and effect or “if you do A, you’ll get B.” It’s not a formula. Parents have to believe that our parenting makes a difference. Otherwise, it’s an overwhelming task. But for Eli and for Samuel, regardless of personal devotion to God, the spiritual formation of any child goes beyond what even the best parents can do. Ultimately, each person has to recognize the pursuit of God in their life and be willing to respond. I can do my best to create an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can draw my children into relationship. But in the end, each child’s response is their solely their own. And that’s not a bad thing. God pursues relationship with our children regardless of our behavior, simply because that’s what he wants. And his desire for their salvation far outweighs any hopes I may have for my children. So I model my Christianity, not because it’s important for them to see it. I model it because my Christianity is important to me. And as God pursues them, one day their Christianity will be important to them as well.