The most famous parenting verse in the book of Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). That’s great to know. But the book of Proverbs has much more to say to parents. Proverbs offers deeper insights that will spare our families pain and will give our families joy. It shows us more clearly “the way a child should go.”
“We wanted our home to make it easy for our kids to love God.”
Proverbs 8 takes us back to the happiness God felt when he created the world. The author looks at Genesis 1:31 — “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” — stares at that verse for a while, and then writes Proverbs 8:22–31, with its joyous vision of God the Creator. Here is the choicest part, where Wisdom personified speaks as God’s partner in crafting the world:
“ . . . then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Proverbs 8:30–31)
How then does Proverbs 8 help us parents? It whispers to us the open secret revealed throughout creation. God’s cheerful wisdom is displayed in the simple realities of everyday human life, including family life. In our psychology and relationships and sexuality and finances, and so forth, God’s wisdom is how everything we care about actually works, for his glory.
Therefore, one of our primary tasks as parents is to impart to our children this shining awareness and positive expectancy, as we walk together through this good world of God’s making.
Home: A Place To Be Happily Human
Christian parents who believe the book of Proverbs make peace with their earthliness. They aren’t embarrassed by how God made them. After all, God isn’t sorry he made us human rather than angelic. He rejoiced when he created us. Yes, we have suffered Adam’s horrible fall. Yes, we are sinful. But sin is not inherent in family life — in playing board games, and taking walks, and doing homework, and taking a nap, and working a job. Even on this side of the fall, “everything created by God is good” (1 Timothy 4:4). Christian parents instructed by the book of Proverbs delight in that truth, and they impart their settled happiness to their children.
“Let them see that faith in you, and the glory of the Lord will be hard for them to resist.”
Should we parents also warn our kids about the land mines the devil has buried here in God’s world? Of course. The book of Proverbs includes plenty of warnings. For example:
Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27–29)
But that is not a warning against God’s gift of human sexuality; it is a warning against the foolish violation of God’s gift. Some parents seem so afraid their children might sin, they smother their home with excessive caution. They give their kids the impression that our created reality is somehow beneath God’s approval. These über-conscientious parents sincerely love their kids, but they harm their kids with a narrow-minded denial of God’s life-affirming goodness. And they inadvertently position their kids for hypocrisy later in life. John Buchan, the Scottish author, wrote, “If you tell a man that honest pleasure is a sin in God’s sight, he finds a way to get the pleasure and yet keep the name for godliness. And, mind you, the pleasures he enjoys with a doubtful conscience will not long remain honest.”
How different is the outlook of Proverbs 8:22–31! The happiness of God freeing our consciences creates glorious moments like this one in the life of Charles Spurgeon, during a visit from the American pastor Theodore Cuyler:
After a hard day of work and serious discussion, these two mighty men of God went out into the country together for a holiday. They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing and free from care. Dr. Cuyler had just told a story at which Mr. Spurgeon laughed uproariously. Then suddenly he turned to Dr. Cuyler and exclaimed, “Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter!” And there, on the green carpet of grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men knelt and thanked the dear Lord for the bright and joyous gift of laughter.
Have your children ever heard you thank the dear Lord for his bright and joyous gift of laughter? If not, why not? Where is the wisdom of God in a gloomy home? Have you, by faith in Christ, accepted how he created you — a human being, a social being, an eating and working and playing and parenting being? If not, you can do so right now, in reverent submission to the word of God. You can start today to bring the joy of God into your home.
Home: A Place To Experience God’s Goodness
God blessed me with a boyhood home defined by his wisdom. For example, when my dad walked into the house around dinner time, he always did the same thing. First, he went over to my mom and kissed her — and not a peck on the cheek. He gave her a serious, Christian kiss on the lips! Then he turned to me and said, “Come on, Skip! Let’s wrestle!” And we’d go to the living room and get down on the floor and wrestle and tickle and laugh and play. My dad saw life with the wholesome outlook of Proverbs 8. And I couldn’t resist the beauty of it.
“Where is the wisdom of God in a gloomy home?”
When my wife and I began our own journey as young parents, one of the questions we asked was this: What is ultimate reality? And as we thought it through, we remembered how Moses prayed, “Please show me your glory,” and how God answered, “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:18–19). So we thought, Okay then, ultimate reality is the glorious goodness of God!
We therefore set out to make our little home — 424 Bush Street, Mountain View, California — a miniature experience of the glorious goodness of God for our children. We wanted our home to make it easy for our kids to love God. We organized our home, as best we knew how, as a positive, humane, God-indwelt experience, with gentleness, sincerity, prayer, Bible stories, fun, a healthy diet, good books, and so forth — the obvious basics that make a home a place where a child can sense the goodness of God.
Home: A Place To Pursue Our Highest Joy
Is there such a thing as foolishly permissive parenting? Yes. Some of us need more backbone for those moments when we must say to our kids, “No!” And when they answer back, “But all the other families at church are okay with it,” we then say, “But we aren’t all the other families. We are the Ortlunds, and we aren’t doing that.”
But there is also such a thing as foolishly restrictive parenting. And those among us who are in earnest with the Lord, who are serious-minded and conscientious — our tendency can be an unbiblical narrowness.
The crazy thing is, it creates the very opposite of what we desire for our children. When they get old enough to think for themselves, and they begin experiencing more of God’s creation, they start thinking, Wait a minute. Dad and Mom steered me away from that. But it isn’t wrong. I wonder how else Dad and Mom misled me?
“Your children need something more than to be fortified against sin. They need to be inspired toward God.”
Wise parents rejoice in God’s glorious goodness, revealed throughout his creation, while also adding in warnings along the way. But it’s the difference between the banner headline and the second paragraph down in the story. Don’t reverse that order and that emphasis. It’s not only your kids who deserve a wholesome introduction to life in God’s world; it is God who deserves to be glorified and enjoyed by your children as the great Giver of countless good things here and hereafter.
Your children need something more than to be fortified against sin. They need to be inspired toward God. Tell them, with all the confidence that Proverbs 8 warrants, of his joyous wisdom across the whole of life. Prove to them, by the very ethos of your home, that the Lord is good. Let them see that faith in you, and the glory of the Lord will be hard for them to resist.
Ray Ortlund (@rayortlund) is lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and blogs at The Gospel Coalition. This article first appeared on desiringgod.org.