Parenthood – Joys and Responsibilities. To what extent are parents responsible for their children, both before they reach maturity and after? The ideas suggested by such words as authority, obedience, equality, freedom, responsibility often stand in a certain tension with each other. If parents teach their children to obey, can they also teach them to be independent and responsible? Such concerns lurk in the background of our lesson for this week; indeed, they frequently emerge as the central concerns.
Questions for Discussion:
- Fruit of the womb. Psalm 127:3 declares that children are a “gift from the Lord” (NAB). Has our modern world given us a different perspective on children? To what extent are children a gift to the parents and to what extent should parents see their children as a “loan” from the Lord which he expects them to nurture so that they can present them back to the larger world as a gift?
- Provoking the children, provoking the parents. While Paul admonishes children to obey their parents, in almost the same breath, he advises fathers not to “provoke” their children to anger, raising them instead in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4). How can parental discipline be effective without provoking the children to anger? Or is a certain amount of anger inevitable, maybe on both sides of the parent/child equation? What dangers lurk when one seeks to follow – or not follow – the counsel of Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your children while there is hope; do not set your heart on their destruction”?
- Discipline and the rod. To what extent is the use of corporal punishment conditioned by culture? Is the decision to use force purely a pragmatic one? There is no record that Jesus ever struck anyone. As someone has noted, even when he cleansed the temple, he attacked the furniture, not the people. But, of course, Jesus had no children of his own… From a New Testament perspective, Paul asks the Corinthian believers if they would prefer the “stick” or “love in a spirit of gentleness” (1 Cor. 4:21, NRSV). In the Old Testament, several proverbs directly advise using the rod:
- Prov. 13:24: “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.” (NRSV)
- Prov. 23:13-14: “Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. (14) If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.” (NRSV)
- Prov. 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child.”
- Role Models, Good and Bad. Paul admonishes the Philippians: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (Phil. 4:9, NRSV). All of that assumes a positive role model. But how does one determine whether a role model is positive or negative? And given the potential for negative role models, how wise is it to encourage believers to follow any role model at all? Would it not be better simply to strive for a noble independence, one which transcends the potentially flawed examples of human beings?
- Biblical examples of parental role models, good and bad. One of the puzzles presented by the record of God’s people is how ineffective parents can be, both on the positive and negative sides. Good parents can produce good children, but also wayward ones; and wayward parents can produce wayward children, but also good ones. The following examples are worth noting:
- Eli and Samuel: Good men, bad children. According to the biblical record, Eli was a god-fearing priest who was entrusted with the care of young Samuel. Ironically, in matters of morality, Eli’s own children, Hophni and Phineas did not follow in their father’s footsteps at all (1 Sam. 2:22-25). And when Samuel grew old, his own children did not follow his good example, but “took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:1-3). Where and how did the parents fail?
- Flawed David, flawed sons: Absalom, Amnon, Adonijah, and Solomon. The history of David’s family is a painful one. Was David’s passionate sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) the cause of the ruin of his family? Among his sons, both Amnon and Solomon were not able to control their sexuality (2 Sam. 13; 1 Kings 11); Absalom and Adonijah plotted against established authority and the wishes of their father (2 Sam. 13-19; 1 Kings 1)
- A succession of reversed role models. As the kingdom of Judah neared its end, a curious thing happened in the royal line of descent: every good king raised an evil son, who in turn raised a good son who in turn raised an evil son. Note the following examples as recorded in 2 Kings 16 Ð 25:
- Bad Ahaz, good Hezekiah
- Good Hezekiah, bad Manasseh
- Bad/Good Manasseh (i.e. repentant, cf. 2 Chron. 33:10-20), but bad Amon
- Bad Amon, but good Josiah
- Good Josiah, but bad sons: Jehoahaz (Shallum), Jehoiakim (Eliakim), Zedekiah (Mattaniah).
- Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5)