Recently, a dear friend had a daughter who went astray. This is not a surprising revelation, for the world is filled with wayward children. Though these situations are always painful to parents, how much harder it seems to be for the Christian family who has poured their heart into teaching their children the right way. I’ve known this girl since she was in first grade, and I don’t know any family that seeks to disciple their children more than this family. They are homeschooled, active in church, and they regularly have round table discussions about real life issues and how the Bible applies. Even as a child, this girl’s practical knowledge would put most adult Christians to shame. Now, two years out of college, she revealed that she has abandoned her faith and has already chosen a lifestyle that is filled with immorality and future consequences.
We’ve all heard and have probably quoted the passage that states, “Teach a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” If this is true, why are so many children departing from the faith? How can a family produce three godly children, and one ungodly child? Aren’t we guaranteed by the Bible that our efforts will ensure that our children will not depart from what we have taught them? Over the years, I have seen many godly families fight through the heartbreak of a child who strays. I’ve often wondered why, but then, the Bible echoes the same pain in its godliest of leaders.
King Solomon testified that he learned wisdom by the mouth of his own father, King David. God Himself testifies that David was a man after His own heart. There could be no greater honor given to any man, nor has it been given to any other man in scripture. Yet, the same godly man who produced Solomon, also produced Amnon – the man who raped his own sister. David’s nurturing environment produced Absolam, whose inability to forgive Amnon festered for years until he devised a way to murder him. His life was so consumed by hatred that Absolam plotted to murder his own father and take over the throne. And then there was Adonija, whose selfish ambition sent him on a quest to take over the kingdom behind the back of his father, while he lay on his deathbed. Not much is known about the other ten sons called by name, but we know that the man who loved God more than life itself produced three men who shamed him, and one who was honored as the wisest man in history.
From this, I conclude that even if I teach my children in the way they should go, they must still submit to the will of God from their own hearts. Solomon said, “He [David] also taught me saying, ‘Let your heart retain my words.’” Solomon took this to heart, and soaked in the words that he later recounted in the Proverbs. His heart retained the words; therefore, he was trained in the right way. These were the same words that Amnon, Absolam, and Adonija heard, but they did not take it to heart.
If God will not overthrow my own will, I should not think that I will have the power to override my children’s will. I can only teach them the right way and pray that God will guide their hearts to His will. It is clear that part of the training that keeps children from departing, is also dependent on their willingness to be trained. If a child opens their heart to receive the love of God, they will grow into the training we provide in a nurturing environment, and because they are anchored by the love of God, they will not depart from it.
If the Bible’s greatest example of a godly man could not keep three of his children from going astray, I know that all we can do is lead our children in the right way to give them the opportunity to receive the love of God. God offers His love, but does not override the will of our children, and neither can we. We must provide the nurturing environment and seed their hearts with the word of God in a spirit of love, but they must take it to heart so that they do not depart from the right way.
Ultimately, we will give an account for what we teach our children, but they must give an account for their own lives and choices.