An Unlikely Source of Reminder

A most unlikely source to remind of the challenges of parenthood comes from the geneaologies of the Bible. My colleague, Claude Mariottini, in his Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding, devotes a short chapter to a pattern in the geneaologies of the Bible that can be a source of comfort for parents — especially perhaps for parents who have children who have not embraced the faith.

From Matthew 1:9-10:

Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah…

Uzziah, a good king, was the father of a good king (Jotham).
Jotham, a good king, was the father of a bad king (Ahaz).
Ahaz, an evil king, was the father of a good, yea great, king (Hezekiah).
Hezekiah, a great king, was the father of an awful king (Manasseh).
Manasseh, a bad king, was the father of an evil king (Amnon).
Amnon, an evil king, was the father of the best king of Judah (Josiah).

Children do not always follow in the ways of their parents.

Parents don’t always guide their children into their ways.

It is tough being a parent, Claude concludes.

“Joy and disappointments come with the agony and ecstasy of being parents” (83).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • RJS4DQ

    Wait, what about Proverbs 22:6 “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” and Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning overseers: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him“? I’ve heard the latter applied to the faithfulness of one’s children as a requirement for Christian leadership.

    Actually I think this observation of Mariottini is important. We can’t look to scripture for proof texts of “laws.” We have to read and study the entire narrative for all it is worth. This look at genealogies (not to mention an attentive reading of the whole of scripture) will give a much more realistic picture.

    Thanks

  • Rick

    I was always hit on how this played out so much in 1 Samuel. Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, Saul and Jonathan (a good reversal), etc..

  • Doug

    Where’s the hope in what Mariottini is saying? “Some children turn out good, some bad. The luck of the draw, I guess.” That’s terrible news, and unhelpful to boot.

    Not to mention, I think the pain of having children who haven’t embraced the faith is not first and foremost the thought of failing as a parent, but the thought of our children rejecting the God who loves them even more than we do.

    Mariottini may be a sound biblical scholar, but a bringer of comfort he ain’t.

  • RJS4DQ

    Doug,

    If by “hope” you mean assurance that there is a ‘magic’ procedure that guarantees our children will stay on the straight and narrow, ther is no hope in this.

    On the other hand it might be a comfort to those who did their best, and children still strayed. It appears that our children ultimately bear their own responsibility (as do we).

    I would say it means we should neither congratulate ourselves nor berate ourselves too much.

  • fair_minded_amy

    Is it possible to be a great King, but a terrible parent?

  • labreuer

    That’s a questionable translation of Proverbs 22:6. See the NET Bible on it:

    Saadia, a Jewish scholar who lived a.d. 882-942, first suggested that this could mean the child should be trained according to his inclination or bent of mind. This may have some merit in practice, but it is not likely what the proverb had in mind. In the book of Proverbs there are only two ways that a person can go, the way of the wise or righteousness, and the way of the fool. One takes training, and the other does not.

    If we’re choosing between one of exactly two ways, then the interpretation is fine. But often, the parent ‘decides’ what the “way they should go is”, completely neglecting the fact that God creates persons for his purposes, not for parents’ purposes.

    I have a document from John Street (Master’s Seminary) which notes that the strict interpretation is:

    “Dedicate a youth according to his foolish way, and when he is old he will not depart from it!”

    This is likely a highly sarcastic remark. To cut this comment short, the point here is not to make a child up into exactly what you want him or her to be like, but to train him or her in the ways of righteousness. Failure to properly understand this will likely do bad things to your child—as we see over and over again in contemporary culture.

  • labreuer

    I’ve noticed that almost never does the fourth generation of children stay righteous. I call this the “wisdom propagation problem”. We seem to suck at it over more than a few generations—often over more than one!

  • Doug

    I said nothing about magic procedures and bona fide recipes for raising righteous children in my original post. I said that I think the kind of comfort that Mariottini offers parents is a poor fit for their plight.

    Those who “did their best” and still had their children stray will not find much comfort in the fact that children are their own moral agents. (Of course they are. Do we really need to study genealogies to confirm this?) As I said above, I think the *bigger* pain is not facing feelings of failure as a parent–how self-centered is that?–but the sheer reality of their children’s rejection of the love of God. Mariottini’s insights do nothing for that kind of pain.

    “It’s tough being a parent,” Claude concludes.
    Thanks for the tip, I say. And the hope.

  • http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com/ Melody Harrison Hanson

    I needed this today.

  • scotmcknight

    I’m not sure, Doug, why you are pressing for hope? It seems he is simply making an observation, even if a little “realistic.”

  • Susan_G1

    In a society (and a religious culture) that loves to judge parents by how their children turned out (I know we are not alone, but look at the number of parenting books out there to reinforce this assumption), I think this is a gracious reminder to parents that the fault may lie elsewhere.

    Although I’m not addressing specifically the issue of staying ‘on the path’, the DSM-IV is a book no parent should ever have to consult. Look under any heading for mental illness and under etiology, you will find judgement of the parents (especially the mother). Only with genetic studies are we coming to realize that children do not come into the world a tabula rasa. With the methylation of DNA in the brain (and other cells), we can see where, almost literally, the ‘sins of the father’ are passed down for generations. If a parent suffered abuse as a child, the trauma/stress causes methylation which can be passed on in the offspring. This makes me sad. When I think one can do everything one can to raise them in a loving, nurturing, healthy environment and yet have an adult child with a mental illness, it’s just crushing to the parent. On the other hand, raising successive generations lovingly can “remove” methylation. Maybe this is the basis of generational healing.

    I understand the primary concern should be for the child, but to deny we feel guilt is to deny fact. If any of us believe we have done it perfectly, we may owe some of that to our own parents, perhaps theirs as well.

  • Kristen

    I’d say David was a great king but an absolutely lousy parent. Case in point the whole Tamar debacle and how David handled it.

  • mteston1

    I parented my children as a pastor. My kids are now all grown and in their 20s and 30s. I did my best to be just Dad and not pastor. We allowed them to be just kids, not pastor’s kids, just kids, no matter. The folks around my wife and I often appreciated our kids, talked well of them because most of the time in the most visible places they were ‘good’ kids. But my wife and I knew otherwise, knew their struggles, knew their foibles, knew them. Some of their decisions as they grew broke our hearts, caused us confusion, made us question everything about ourselves as people, parents, faithful persons. I got to the place when people would say what “wonderful” children they were, I’d respond I take very little responsibility for their “wonderfulness” because I knew of that other side and I would not take full responsibility for that either. Your comment, “we should neither congratulate ourselves nor berate ourselves too much” is really spot on. There have been many times, and still are, when my wife and I look at each other over some matter concerning our kids and shrug and just move on with our day. They are who they are. They will be who they will be. Much of that is determined by them and often by things we’ll never understand. Most of life is that way requiring a high degree of “trust.” I think I have understood that to be faith.


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