The Spiritual Endangerment of a Child...
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the January 1993 issue of Reason & Revelation, I authored a feature article titled “Why Are We Losing Our Children?,” which discussed some of the reasons why children lose their faith in God—and ultimately their souls. Judging from the popularity of that article, it is apparent that the safety of a child’s soul is a topic that is close to the hearts of many of our readers. We received so many requests for copies of that article that we had to reprint it—twice! I have written the following material as a sequel to the January 1993 discussion. It is my hope that the thoughts it contains will be of some assistance to those who are faced with the difficult task of rearing children in our increasingly secular society. It is clear to me that our children are being endangered, and that we are losing them to the world. I wish I could say that the tide has turned. The evidence, however, indicates that it has not. See, for example, my June 1998 article, “Protecting a Precious Heritage.”]
One of the most important responsibilities parents face is the protection of their children’s souls. As their children grow up, some parents find themselves spending countless hours, and sleepless nights, struggling with problems that occur in the lives of those children. At times, the parents’ lives are affected adversely by their children’s actions. Similarly, children may have their lives, and their faith, affected adversely by the actions of their parents. The tragic fact remains that when our children lose their faith, we lose our children, and everyone suffers.
There is no loss more saddening, however, than the one that could have been prevented in the first place. In Proverbs 22:6, the writer urged parents to “train up a child in the way he should go,” the result being that “even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The thrust of the proverb is that there are things we, as parents, can do to help prevent the loss of a child’s soul.
This article discusses the practical consequences for the soul of a child when the precepts set forth in the Bible for the protection of our children are ignored. It also examines the potential danger to the spiritual welfare of a child caused by the attitudes and actions of parents, and urges every parent to reexamine his or her commitment to the principles provided within God’s Word, and to the children that are our most prized earthly possessions.
When Christ spoke to the multitudes that thronged to hear Him, He addressed the precious, and safe, nature of a child’s soul. In Mark 10:14, Jesus commented that “to such belongeth the kingdom of God.” One verse earlier, it is recorded that when Christ observed children being kept from Him, “he was moved with indignation.” Jesus placed a premium on the soul of a child, as the discussion in Matthew 18:5-6 plainly indicates.
Should we today do any differently? The psalmist indicated that “children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (127:3). Our children are, literally, gifts from the Lord. As God’s heritage, they are sent to us for safekeeping, which is why we are commanded to rear them “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The spiritual instruction of a child is not an option. It is not something we do if we have the time or if we find it convenient. God has given us, as parents, the awesome responsibility of introducing our children to His covenant, and of teaching our children His Word. But what is the ultimate goal of this daunting task? Is it not safe to say that our ultimate goal is to see the soul of a child returned to the God of heaven from whom it was sent originally? Is this not why the psalmist stated that children “are as arrows in the hand of a mighty man” (127:4)? Children, just like arrows, are to be launched toward a singular goal. That goal is heaven, and we are God’s archers. Without our careful sighting of the goal, without our purposeful aim, our children never will return to the God Who created them.
Is this responsibility sobering and weighty? Yes. Is it at times burdensome or difficult? Yes. But is it impossible to accomplish? No! God never gave a command that we, with His aid and assistance, cannot carry out successfully. Christ, in speaking to the people of His generation, stated that “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He was not suggesting that the illogical could become logical. He did not mean that God could make such things as a round square or an acceptable sin. In the context, He was making the point that with God’s help, obstacles that at first glance appear to us to be insurmountable can, in fact, be overcome. Tasks that seem too arduous can, in fact, be completed.
And so it is with the successful rearing of a child. God has given us, as parents, the responsibility of ensuring the safety of our children’s souls. Fortunately, He also has given us tools equal to the task, and the instruction booklet we are to employ as we go about completing our assignment. The tools include such things as love, parental authority, wisdom, and experience. The instruction booklet is His Word, the Bible. Granted, there may be times when parents use both the tools and the instruction booklet to the best of their ability, and yet still fail because a child employs his or her God-given free will to rebel against heaven’s admonition. Samuel and Eli provide just such an example. Both of these men had ungodly children. God condemned Eli, but within the Scriptures there is found no condemnation for Samuel. Why the difference? Both sets of children possessed free will, and both used that free will to rebel. Apparently, however, Samuel attempted, to the best of his ability, to restrain his children, while Eli did not. Let us not condemn dedicated and godly parents who attempt to turn their children unto the paths of righteousness, but who fail through no fault of their own. At the same time, however, let us not attempt to defend parents who neglect their children, and who thus contribute to their spiritual delinquency.
WHY DO OUR CHILDREN SOMETIMES FIND THEIR SOULS IN DANGER?
Is it not safe to say that at times a child’s soul may be placed in danger due to the failure of those of us who are parents, and who, as God’s archers, did not return to heaven the “arrow” God first sent our way. In almost every case, our failure was not premeditated, and certainly was not intentional. Nevertheless, when we fail, our children can lose their souls, and we can lose our children. Why do we as parents fail, and what we can do to prevent such failures?
A Child’s Soul May be in Danger Because of the
Parents’ Incorrect View of God and His Word
Speaking for God, the prophet Hosea lamented, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). Today, God’s people are still destroyed for lack of knowledge. Where knowledge is lacking, wisdom will always be in short supply. We cannot teach what we do not know. As parents, we cannot instruct our children in the precepts of the Lord if we do not first know those precepts ourselves. And as a result of our ignorance of God’s Word, we may inadvertently place the soul of a child in danger. An example comes to mind.
Some time ago, a mother was discussing a problem in the life of her son. The boy had begun to date a girl that had a less-than-sterling reputation, and the relationship had quickly become sexual in nature. When another concerned parent inquired about what the mother planned to do about the situation, the mother responded by saying that it had always been her policy to “respect her children’s privacy and not interfere in their lives” and to simply “let go and let God.” Her point was: she did not have to act on her child’s behalf because God would.
But are those concepts scriptural? In God’s divine plan, children were placed in the care of parents so that those parents could offer guidance and instruction and, yes, so they could “interfere” in their children’s lives from time to time. In Ephesians 6:1, children are commanded to obey their parents. Inherent in that command is the concept of parents giving instructions that are in keeping with God’s Word, and that therefore should be obeyed. Three verses later in that same chapter, fathers are admonished to rear their children “in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” The writer of Proverbs noted that “he that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him diligently” (13:24). Call it what you will, but this is “interfering” in the life of a child. And it is the kind of interference that God not only expects, but commands.
In Proverbs 31, the writer paints a portrait of a godly woman. She is described variously as a person who does good, works hard, and “openeth her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue; she looketh well to the ways of her household.... Her children rise up and call her blessed” (31:26-28). This hardly is the description of a mother who refuses to “interfere” in the lives of her children. Rather, a careful reading of Proverbs 31:10-31 presents a picture of a woman who is actively involved in the life of her husband and the lives of her children, for, besides her own soul, they are her most cherished possessions. A mother who suggests that she is doing her children a favor by “not interfering” in their lives has a warped view of what a mother is supposed to do, according to God’s Word.
Further, nowhere in Scripture is the concept of “let go and let God” presented in regard to the rearing of children. While the slogan may have some legitimacy if it is interpreted to mean that we always should trust God and have faith in Him, it is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture for a parent to use such a concept to suggest, “I do not have to act because God will act for me.” It is true that faith is essential to a correct relationship with God (Ephesians 2:8-9). But it also is true that a biblical faith is an obedient, working faith. James addressed the relationship between our faith and our actions when he wrote: “What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him?... Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith” (James 2:14,18).
As God’s people, we are commanded to carry out certain duties and assignments. For example, we are to take the Gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:18-20). We are to care for orphans and widows (James 1:27). We are to minister to those in need (Matthew 6:7-12). Each of these is something Christians must do; God will not do them for us. We cannot simply “let go and let God.”
The rearing of our children falls into that same category. It often is said that “God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.” While that exact statement is not found in the Bible, the principle behind it is biblical. God expects us to use the tools He has provided to accomplish the task He has assigned. When a child is placed in our care, it is not as if we as parents are left to our own devices to rear that child. God has given us His Word, complete with His instructions, on exactly what we are to do, and how we are to do it. While every situation that may arise in the life of a child may not be covered in the Bible by a “thus saith the Lord,” the principles contained within God’s Word will apply to every conceivable situation. For us simply to sit back and say that we will “let go and let God” is to ignore plain biblical teaching on parental responsibility. And, if we adhere to such a policy, it will spell ultimate doom for the souls of our children.
A Child’s Soul May be in Danger Because a Parent
did not Provide Proper Instruction or Supervision
The wording of the psalmist in speaking of our children as “arrows in the hand of a mighty man” (127:4) is no accident. Each step the archer takes is deliberately calculated. When he sights the goal, draws the bowstring, and sends the arrow on its way, it does not reach its intended target because it was handled in a haphazard fashion. The archer knows exactly where the arrow has been aimed, and he has taken steps to see that it successfully reaches its final target. Each step that we take as parents must be deliberately calculated as well. We must not handle our children’s souls in a haphazard fashion. Every action we take must be with the intention of seeing our children reach their final target of a home in heaven with their God. If we do not provide proper instruction, or proper supervision, we will fail in that task.
In Proverbs 29:15, the writer observed that “a child left to himself bringeth shame to his mother.” Have we not seen that very scenario acted out over and over again in this day and age? In times past, we as children came home to a house that was brightly lit, and that smelled of hot, chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven. We opened the kitchen door on any given day after school, and were met there by a mother who was clad in an apron, and who had flour on her cheeks. She never was too busy to sit and talk to us, even though we had little of importance to say. As we ate those homemade cookies, and as we looked into that flour-sprinkled face, we were making memories that would last a lifetime. We also were receiving instruction and supervision that would see us through both the good times and the bad. Our moms used those opportunities to talk to us about God, His will and way in the world, and His plans for our lives. We never even knew what our moms were doing, but our moms knew. They were ensuring that their son or daughter was not the “child left unto himself.”
How things have changed. Today, all too often children come home, not to a brightly lit house or to the smell of fresh-baked cookies, but to a dark, dank home where their only company is the television set or the Nintendo machine attached to it, and where store-bought cookies are to be found in the cookie jar on the kitchen cabinet. There is no apron-clad mother waiting to hear about the day’s activities, or to impart instructions to the waiting sponge-like mind of a child. And an opportunity to mold the mind of one so young has been missed yet another day.
Our children may find their souls in danger because we as parents fail to properly instruct and supervise those children. While we should be seizing every possible chance to “expound unto them the way of the Lord more accurately” (Acts 18:26), we may at times forfeit that opportunity. Then, not only is the needed instruction missing, but something else often takes its place. The example mentioned above of the young man who began dating the girl of questionable moral character can provide some insight.
The parents involved chose not to “interfere” in this aspect of their son’s life. As he built a relationship with the young lady, he invited her to his house night after night, with his parents’ foreknowledge and approval. But the parents rarely were at home, because they elected to go to social functions, dinner parties, church fellowships, Bible studies, etc., and thus were not present to provide any adult supervision. By their absence, they placed their son in harm’s way. While this may not have been their intention, it was the end result of their actions. Instead of laying down proper guidelines, and providing supervision to ensure that those guidelines were obeyed, they paved the way for their son to lose his moral footing. Rather than being there for their son as his protector, they abandoned him both physically and spiritually. How many times have families seen a child lose his or her moral purity, or had to endure an unexpected pregnancy, because parents failed in their supervisory capacity? The proverb, in such instances, becomes all too real—“a child left to himself bringeth shame to his mother.”
A Child’s Soul May be in Danger Because
Parental Priorities were not in Order
Each of us, parent or not, struggles to keep our priorities in order. In His beautiful Sermon on the Mount, Christ addressed the idea of how important it is that we succeed, and reminded us to “seek first the kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Sadly, when we fail in keeping our priorities straight, often it is our children who suffer the most. This is, in fact, exactly what happened in the case of the young man discussed above. Something became more important than the protection of a son’s soul. Eventually, both the child and the parents suffered as a result.
There is an old saying that “nature abhors a vacuum.” When we as parents do not seize the God-given prerogative to fill our children’s lives with things that are pure and wholesome, the world always stands ready to fill the vacuum. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asked the question, “For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” To a parent, that passage has a double meaning. While we value highly our own souls, as we are instructed by Scripture to do, we also value highly the souls of our children. Most parents gladly would lay down their own lives to save the lives of their children. Even more so, then, should that kind of sacrifice be apparent when it comes to the soul of a child. No parent who loves the Lord, and who loves his children, can even bear to think about the soul of one of those children being lost. And surely, no parent could endure the thought that such a loss was caused by his or her own parental neglect due to misplaced priorities.
Within each child there is an element of individuality that must be considered, and that cannot be ignored. As parents, we are to train our child “in the way he should go.” That phrase does not mean that we are to train our children in the way we want them to go. Rather, we are to take into account each child’s personality, disposition, and natural talents, and as we do, we then can provide instruction that enables the child to be a spiritual success. It is our duty as parents to study our children, to learn their ways, to know their strengths and weaknesses, and to avoid applying some kind of rigorous standard to each child indiscriminately.
Each child possesses a God-given free will. Our job is to carefully instruct our children so that they use that free will properly, in keeping with God’s plan for their lives. In John 5:39-40, Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life: and these are they which bear witness of me; and ye will not come to me that ye may have life.” The Pharisees could have come to Christ, but they freely chose not to. Of interest is the fact that Jesus never violated their freedom of choice. We, as parents, cannot make the choices for our children. We can, however, use parental authority, prayer, biblical instruction, adult supervision, and the wisdom of the ages as found in God’s inspired Word to help them make the correct choices in this pilgrimage we call life.
If we are successful, it will be our reward in that Great Day yet to come to stand beside those children and hear their Master say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master.” No earthly pleasure ever could compare with that of spending an eternity in heaven with the children we brought into this world, and helped usher into the next.