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This Q is appealing to each and every of the 35,000+ individual denominations of Christianity, and even those non-denominational sects who perhaps glibly adhere to biblical principles.

Q. If every word of scripture is true, trustworthy, and inspired, (2Tim 3:16) why does Proverbs say this when this didn't work out for even God himself?

Pro 22:6 ESV

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

And yet...

Isa 1:2-4 NLT

2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the LORD says: "The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. 3 Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master's care--but Israel doesn't know its master. My people don't recognize my care for them." 4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are--loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

This isn't even an isolated incident, it was a recurring theme throughout the Bible:

Eze 20:17-18, 21 NLT

17 Nevertheless, I took pity on them and held back from destroying them in the wilderness. 18 "Then I warned their children not to follow in their parents' footsteps, defiling themselves with their idols.

21 "But their children, too, rebelled against me. They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days. So again I threatened to pour out my fury on them in the wilderness.*

Are godly parents really expected to experience this promise from Proverbs with their own children, when God couldn't even keep his own children on the straight and narrow? And if you are one of those who simply write it off as a "general" rule, not to be applied to all godly parents, yet, wouldn't it—at the very least—be applied to GOD himself as the ultimate Parent? I am looking for those with adept scriptural perception as to how and why a godly parent—one who pleases God— would not receive this promise of seeing their children endure to the end in faith. Thank you.

I was expecting more people to use actual scripture passages about rearing children correctly or parent/child relationships with logical interpretations to answer this. Instead, I seem to be getting criticism for taking Biblical promises too seriously.

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4 Answers 4

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The passage you cite comes from Proverbs. Proverbs as a literary genre and philosophical system is different from the Law. In many respects it outlines a wise path through life. It gives principles that work in general, but are subject to exceptions. It also gives principles that seem to contradict one another. The key to wisdom is time. The wise person learns which principles govern any given situation.

So Proverbs gives the principles. Job confronts evil and suffering, which challenge Wisdom's ways by giving examples of how evil prevents the expected blessings of righteous living from accruing to the righteous and actually delivers them to the wicked. God's answer is the necessity of suffering in life to teach us wisdom and the promise of a savior and an eternal reward.

Ecclesiastes tackles additional objections to living a wise life, such as the seeming futility of all that we do on earth. Ecclesiastes analyzes how the different times of life call for different ways of handing life's challenges.

The life of faith is trusting that it is profitable to follow God's ways even when they don't always produce in this life the desired results. As the writer of Hebrews said, the heroes of faith died before receiving what was promised.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Time and Proverbs

In my 2022 book Peace, like Solomon never Knew, I devote an appendix to Proverbs. My key original insight is that the first three chapters of Proverbs are introductory, then the remaining twenty-eight chapters correspond, in sequence, to the twenty-eight times of Ecclesiastes 3. If you overlay those times onto Proverbs, it supplies additional insight into how the many sayings in each chapter give a coherent message. The arrangement of sayings in each chapter often seems haphazard; it is not. The conclusion is that a parent not only needs to know the content of what to teach their children, the lessons must be age appropriate and delivered into each time of life in a wise manner.

I performed a similar analysis of Song of Songs, also in that book. That poem has twenty-eight speaking units as it hops between the woman, her lover and her friends. Each speaking part corresponds to one of the twenty-eight times of Ecclesiastes 3 also. However, the corresponding time in 15 of 28 instances describes exactly the opposite of how the couple is behaving or what the friends are advocating. That says that young people live at odds with God's timing and it causes stress and problems.

Thus, in addition to the problem of evil and other reasons that the "promises" of Proverbs may fail, we have the possibility that people do not know how to incorporate God's wisdom into the time of life in which they find themselves.

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  • Hi Paul, thank you, however, the promises you mentioned were heavenly, not earthly. What I am uneasy about is the fact that Proverbs makes an earthly promise that "if" parents direct their children, "then" they will be faithful. The issue is then, why— considering Gods perfect Fatherly discipline—would He command us to rear godly children when it didnt even work out perfectly for Him regarding the Israelites in the passages I cited. And if, as you say, the promises may or may not be fulfilled because "evil prevents the blessings sometimes" that raises a whole new issue with Omnipotence.
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 2:10
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    @Nate "It gives principles that work in general, but are subject to exceptions. " He is saying (and I agree) that, no, proverbs aren't promises. They are things that are usually or often true, but certainly not always true. This is the case for many parts of the wisdom books and psalms, and even in a lesser way, some of the non Pauline epistles like 1 John. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 9:09
  • Hey Ancient, I know many secular Proverbs can be general. but not all of them seem that way. What are your thoughts on this condition/promise? Pro 23:17-18 NLT -"Don't envy sinners, but always continue to fear the LORD. 18 You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed." Should it be read "you might be rewarded and your hope may or may not be disappointed."? What I feel is trending with Qs like these is a spirit of subjectivity, where everyone decides what is general and what is absolute, thus holding Gods truths to ones own standards.
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 12:51
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    @Nate That's perfectly normal in the wisdom books. There are transcendent truths among ordinary wisdom, usually referring to God, as opposed to fickle man. All the wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc) have this as a feature. Try applying Ecclesiastes like you are Proverbs! The way you're trying to use Proverbs as a series of perfectly true categorical statements defies the genre. Pro 26:4 and 5 is hard proof of that. This is the norm among evangelicals who believe in infallibility and inerrancy like myself; see the Chicago Statement for a more precise formulation. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 22:03
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    @Nate Useful for teaching doesn't mean 'every statement is a perfectly true categorical statement'. As I point out, that would result in an immediate contradiction from e.g Pro 26:4 and 5. If you want to try to read the Bible that way, that's on you; not even the keenest, most solid evangelicals do that, so it's not a problem for us, only for you. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 10:23
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Does training up a child always work out in the end?

My answer: No, not always.

While your question contains many concepts I can agree with, an important concept that is missing in your answer is the concept of the sovereignty of God, on the one hand, and the free will of His image bearers, on the other hand.

The book "The Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man", written by A. W. Pink, the late theologian, Bible teacher, pastor, and writer suggests that God's sovereignty and human free will constitute an antinomy. In other words, they present us with a paradox.

On the one hand, God is sovereign. In spite of the sins and machinations of fallen humanity, God's overall plan for the ages will come to pass. There will come a time when, as the seventh angel in Revelation 11:15 says, "The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever."

Yes, God will one day triumph over evil and will usher in His kingdom in which "righteousness will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9 and Habakkuk 2:14). One day there will be a great and unbridgeable chasm between hell and the new heavens and the new earth. God's will WILL always be done "on earth as it is in heaven."

On the other hand, there is the freedom of God's image bearers. Exactly how and to what extent God's sovereignty and our free will coexist has been debated for millennia by greater thinkers than I. Where God's sovereignty "makes room" for the free will of His creatures, and where our free will ends and God's sovereignty trumps our free will presents us with a paradox.

Let's apply my thoughts above to the question at hand. You quoted Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." You then asked "Does training up a child [in the way he should go] always work out in the end?" I say no. Why? Because there are simply too many exceptions to the rule, and the book of Proverbs, by its very nature, allows for exceptions to the rule.

Is gray (or white) hair always "a crown of splendor . . . attained in the way of righteousness"? (See Proverbs 16:31.) No, there are many men and women whose gray or white hair is NOT a crown of splendor, nor is it attained by living a righteous life.

Similarly, not every child who is trained up in the way s/he should go will end up living that way when their parents die. The fault for this sad outcome of a life is shared by parents and children alike.

To train up a child in the way he should go means, in part, that since each child is unique and has a certain "bent" in their approach to life, parents can fail their children when they neither recognize that bent nor do they parent their children according to that bent. By the same token, there are parents who do an excellent job in rearing their children by allowing them to express their individuality, their temperaments, and their choices in God-honoring ways.

There are, however, parents who live their lives through their children. Take the father who is a doctor, lawyer, laborer, or engineer, or the mother who is a nurse, a professor, a homemaker, or a statistician. Ignoring their child's bent, they might exert undue pressure on the child by insisting s/he become a doctor when the child's heart is simply not in it.

Children, too, bear responsibility for how they turn out spiritually later in life. Their parents may have done a good job in rearing them according to their children's bent. The parents prayed with their children, took them to church and Sunday school regularly, and spoke freely to their children about biblical values and how to apply those values to lives that are pleasing to the Lord.

By the same token, however, the children sometimes rebel against those biblical values, sometimes for a brief time, and sometimes for many years. While their parents may not have done a perfect job in bringing their children up, are the parents solely to blame for children who make shipwreck of their lives? No.

Here is where God's sovereignty and human responsibility are especially relevant. You've heard the expression, I'm sure, that "It's not a matter of either/or, but of both/and." So it is with God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Both exist in equipoise, but how exactly that equilibrium is achieved is difficult to say. I suggest that God's sovereignty and human freedom will, until the end of history as we know it, exist in tension.

To insist that a verse such as Proverbs is an inexorable rule to which their are no exceptions is a mistake, in my opinion. Furthermore, to insist that our heavenly Father has somehow failed in His child-rearing because some of His children do not finish their course well is a mistake. They, unlike the apostle Paul, will simply not have a crown of righteousness awaiting them (2 Timothy 4:8) and will experience a loss of reward.

In conclusion, all believers will one day be judged by God at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Believers will lose rewards when their ostensible good deeds are judged by God to have been motivated by impure motives. Those motives are the wood, hay, or straw mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:12. Believers will gain rewards, however, when their motives are judged to have been pure, and when their works live on ("echo in eternity"). Those are the gold, silver, and precious stones the fire of God's judgment will not consume.

As for unbelievers--because even children brought up in the way they should go will not inherit eternal life, ultimately their final destination is determined by their names not being written in the Lamb's book of life. Their punishments, however, will be commensurable with the severity and extent of their sins (Revelation 13:8 and 21:27).

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  • Great answer, thank you. However, this still seems like an arbitrary and unnecessary verse in Proverbs if it may, or may not happen, depending on, who knows what? Try to raise your kids well, but it might be a waste of 20 yrs of your life, who knows? What makes this more valuable than the proverb about gray hair, is that there IS a command from God for us to raise godly children. Mal 2:15 NLT -Didn't the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union..."He doesnt make a command about having gray hair when you are old.
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 12:33
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The problem

Your question's premise is a way of reading the Bible that you label "true, trustworthy, and inspired", that by your reading necessarily implies "he will not depart from it" in Prov 22:6 as a divine promise that on the Bible's own account (re: your citation of Eze 20:17-18,21 and Isa 1:2-4) does NOT work even for God Himself!, since all Christians agree that God is the ideal Father (re: my recent answer about God's fatherhood).

Hence the apparent problem: either

  • the saying does not work (Israel did rebel) or
  • God is not a good parent or
  • Proverbs is not trustworthy.

The macro story of the Bible

What can be said at the outset is that God did "Train up a child in the way he should go", which is why God successfully gave the commandments at Sinai to make explicit the moral laws embedded in human's conscience that has been clouded and overpowered by sinful inclinations. In fact, the commandments became the measure of what counts as sin, primarily as rebellion against the author of these moral laws embedded in our nature.

Not just acting similar to regular parents who teach the rules of conduct to a child, God also did train by way of punishment. The Bible clearly testified of multiple occasions God used to punish so that humanity repents and returns to the way of living that is both Godly and flourishing (Noah's story, Judges, the 2 exiles, etc.). But God never simply punish; like good parents He forgive and welcome back all repentant sinners like in the parable of the prodigal son. He also does NOT abandon people who have gone into the far end of the wicked roads by seeking them like good parents who don't abandon their children when they run away from home. For example, God came to Babylon offering restoration, Jesus told of the parable of the lost coins or the lost sheep.

The above is the macro story of the Bible, how humans know the way of right living but out of our distorted free will rebel against it.

Addressing the apparent problem in light of the macro story

As you read from the comments, most Christians do not read Proverbs as "a mechanistic promise that if you do X then God will guarantee that Y will follow", but as a divine wisdom for living that is validated by human experience across culture and ages (scholars will point out that the Israelites adapted wise sayings from previous cultures of the Ancient Near East, most notably ancient Egyptian's). The not-so-explicit premise of the Bible is that humans are free to sin, and God will not intervene with this "free will" although God implants certain desires in human beings to direct proper exercise of this free will (called in theology "desire for God").

Let it be most explicit: In his omnipotence God does not always get what He wants, which is borne through in human parenting as well. But God works around human's bad exercise of their free will by divine providence understood as "higher dimension chess" (an idiom that became more popular in recent years). So in the end, God gets what He ultimately wants while STILL preserving human free will.

There are problems with both the premise and your reading, as other commenters and the Paul Chernoch's answer have pointed to:

  1. Reading any verse of the Bible needs to respect this macro story context. The doctrine of the trustworthiness of the Bible relates more to this macro story. So you made a mistake on understanding what trustworthy means in the context of Christian doctrine of the Bible.

  2. You miss "even when he is old" phrase. Children started to rebel by teenage years, and by college age they are in full-fledged rebellion and can quit going to church or even stop being a Christian. It's commonplace for parents to share their heartache in Bible study groups. Does it mean the parents stop believing the truth of Prov 22:6? No. The unsaid premise of Prov 22:6 is If they do their teaching right, i.e. not by brainwashing, not by double standard, not by legalistic application of Biblical teaching, etc. When their children become older, the children will realize how the teaching was good teaching in the first place, and that it would be to their benefit that they should literally "make a u-turn" in their walk of life.

In God's case, the remnant of Israel DID repent, seen by their response to John the Baptist's call, for example. Not only that, God's plan that Israel should be the light of the world DID come through in Jesus (the light of the world who embodies all Israel) and through Christianity the rest of humanity can be trained in the way we should go. Did ALL of them repent? Of course not. Does it mean Prov 22:6 fails? Not if we don't read it mechanistically like you did.

More importantly, through the aid of the Trinitarian life given to us, we can overcome the very potent corruption in our will to rebel against the way of good living that Proverbs teach us, a lifetime work of sanctification that will be finished by the time we reach heaven.

Conclusion

You asked

... how and why a godly parent—one who pleases God— would not receive this promise of seeing their children endure to the end in faith.

The answer is that those godly parents will parent their children the way God parent Israel: through good teaching, appropriate punishment, and lotsa lotsa love, forgiveness, and mercy. Those parents don't want to raise robots (even though AI looks good lately) but want to see their children embrace the right teaching out of their own free will, at the risk that the children will have to make some pretty bad choices. Godly parents will intercede for their children so God will give them more and more grace to empower them to make the right choices including the grace to remain in the faith. When they see their children in heaven, those godly parents will receive their rewards.

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  • Thanks for your answer. It makes sense, and free will is an important part of it, yes. I dont feel comfortable questioning any part of Gods omnipotence in any matter. Nebuchadnezzar said it best in Dan 4:35. Yes, God always kept a remnant, and perhaps those were His only "true" children, and the rest of the majority of his professing people were just "fillers" on the broad path to destruction—not unlike today. So, if a godly parent were to ask me why their children have strayed, I would question their method of teaching their children? But isnt their salvation up to God?
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 12:17
  • So why would God issue a command like this, when He knows its not up to, nor controllable, by the parents? Mal 2:15 NLT - 15 Didn't the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth." If our children arent godly, it seems it will up to us to answer for it.
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 12:28
  • @Nate I responded to your comments in the existing chatroom for your question. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 13:24
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Answering from one of those non-denominational sects who perhaps glibly adhere to biblical principles here, mainly focusing on God's New Testament children from the new birth.

(As a side note, I Tim 3.16 does not say that every scripture is true--only that it is given by inspiration and it is profitable for reproof, for correction, and for instruction. The book of Proverbs is not the word of God proper, but a meta-collection of wise sayings from several sources, as attested in some of the introductory verses of the several chapters. As others have noted in the comment section, there are many discussions about the inerrancy of scriptures; unfortunately not all Christian churches will give the same answer about the basic thesis of your question, and you could get upwards of thirty five thousand different answers because of this.)

Does training up a child always work out in the end?

No.

Well, it depends what "work out" means, I guess. You can't train children to convert to Christianity, or have faith, or anything dependent on personal choice like that. You can teach prudence, both by explaining and by living wisely, and your children are sure to learn some wisdom, too. This is completely independent of your being Christian or having any other kind of faith, or none at all; in deed, a great deal of the Proverbs' subject matter is equally independent. It is a statistical guarantee of sorts: if you teach them good things, they'll learn them; and the stuff they learn when they're children sticks with them, and they'll do it.

Maybe not all of it, you know. But in general, it's nearly impossible to forget all of what one learns as a child, and that can be good. "All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten." (Robert Fulghum)

Are godly parents really expected to experience this promise from Proverbs with their own children, when God couldn't even keep his own children on the straight and narrow?

God can keep his own children. He is able to keep them from falling. And, while I think he could force us to choose to be his children, he doesn't. And we have all, regardless of the good and bad training that we've each had, chosen sin. Also, this isn't a promise. All the way from Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:17 are proverbs of Solomon. "Sayings", if you will. And this one is just plain common sense.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way... (Isaiah 53:6)

And God, in mercy, has offered salvation through Jesus to people in stead of to families.

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right (or power) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John ch. 1)

This "being born of God" is personal. And it is related to our individual belief. And the children that you train will also either believe or not, no matter how prudent you have taught them to be. Sometimes selfishness wins out against their better knowledge.

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  • I like your intro, very genuine haha. You are right 2Tim3;16 doesnt say "truth" but that is taken for granted, or else, whats the use of reading it? In Jn17;17 Jesus said in a prayer to Almighty God "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." So, although some proverbs are secular sayings from around the plane, raising Godly children is found on other places as a mandate from God to parents, like Mal 2:15 Didn't the LORD make you one with your wife?..And what does he want? Godly children from your union." So this command must be achievable, not inconsistent. Theres something missing
    – user61518
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 13:11
  • I think it's a little like Pr. 10.4: "Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth". It's just not true all of the time. I know lots of rich people who are lazier than the upper jaw, and lots of people who work hard are poor, believe it or not. But in general, wealth is produced by hard work and diligence. It's a statement of the facts of life, not a promise; and so it is subject to apparently chaotic variations.
    – Conrado
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 14:09

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