The Goal of Parenting
By Fred Zaspel
“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Prov. 22:15
Can you remember your childhood well enough to recall how much you needed parents? Of course when we were new-born we needed our parents for absolutely everything. We were utterly dependent. And it was a long time before we were independent in any sense. By the time we were walking our parents had to micro-manage our every moment lest we run over the top of the stairs or eat the ant poison or play with a knife or some such display of childhood folly. Honestly, it was a long time before we were safe!
For years we were very likely to make decisions that were not at all in our own best interests, and when we did we still wondered why those foolish choices did not make us happy. For most, they grow until they figure out that it is their parents who are stupid – and then are surprised some years later to learn that these same parents have grown up and become smart! And through our teen years and beyond it never occurred to us that our parents really were more concerned for our happiness and well-being than we were. And it certainly never entered our mind that we need them to give us direction. All this simply because “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.”
Most foolish of all, we were likely to think that we could be happy and find ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction apart from God. We were likely to think that temporal pleasures outweigh the eternal. Proverbs has much to say about the fool and foolishness. One of the most telling descriptions is found in Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” A right orientation to God is basic to all knowledge and wisdom, but fools despise wisdom. Question: Why would someone hate wisdom? The obvious answer: because he’s a fool. And foolishness in Proverbs has these two dimensions – it is both morally wrong and personally destructive. “Foolishness” is that which is wrong, and it is not in our own best interests. Foolishness, at bottom, is an inward bias to evil. It is a (foolish) commitment to find pleasure apart from God. It is a stupid, self-destructive pursuit of sin and a pursuit of happiness without God.
The sobering thing is that this foolishness is bound in the heart of your precious children. Theologians call it “original sin,” and you see it every day. Though you adore them, your children are likely to think that you stand between them and happiness. They are likely to think that all this religion stuff is an obstacle to freedom. They are willing even to put their relationship with you on the rocks in order to pursue what they firmly believe is better for them. They will ruin their own happiness, both temporal and eternal, because they think they know best how to find real pleasure. You know better, and you plead accordingly, until finally you realize the truth of original sin. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.”
It’s a horrible realization, but every parent has seen it, and every child has lived it. But if we would be successful parents, we must come to grips with it. Foolishness reigns in the natural heart. And so it is the responsibility and the goal of parenting prayerfully to teach, train, instruct, admonish, and discipline our children, and by every possible way steer them away from inbred folly. The goal is to stand between them and their own self-destruction.
The goal is not merely to get them successfully to age 22 without a record with the police or history of drugs or pregnancy. The goal is to see them come by God’s grace to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus, and to rest safely in him who alone gives true and lasting joy.
We understand that at the end of the day only God can do this. But precisely because he is the one who saves, we give ourselves to apply every means that he has appointed to that end, praying all the while that he would be merciful and spare our children from the folly that lies in the heart of every one us.
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two children, Gina and Jim.