TRAIN UP A CHILD
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my life I have heard persons raise questions about the accuracy of Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Most persons seem to feel like an elder expressed about 35 years ago in a congregation where I was preaching. He said, “I just do not understand it. I sent my children to Sunday School when they were young, and yet not a one of them is now faithful.” A little light might be thrown on that if you realize that it was the same elder who said to me, “Why don’t we use instruments of music in the worship?”
Another clue to the problem is in inadvertent use of “sent.” When he was a lot younger, before he got appointed to the “office” by a prominent evangelist who was trying to get the church organized, he had not attended the Bible study regularly, but had sent his children.
Although surely not much comment needs to be made about that point, let me emphasize two very important things: 1. Sending a child to Bible school when you demonstrate by your actions that it is not really valuable is not only relatively useless. It is WORSE that useless, for it actually calls attention to your hypocrisy, and instead of simply doing no good, actually does harm. 2. Telling a child he OUGHT to do something, and TRAINING him in doing it are two very different things. In addition to that, there are some other very important things we need to realize about this verse and its lessons and implications for us.
First, let us presume that a child was trained by his parents instead of merely being told (which is sometimes wrongly assumed to be synonymous with “taught”). This is not the totality of the training he receives, and actually is only a small part of it. He is trained in school by his teachers, out of school by his peers and companions, and in various forms by various persons. It is true that the QUALITY of training from his parents should outweigh any combination of other factors. But the point here is that no matter how well the parents train the child, he has many other trainers who may train him in other things not so good.
Second, although it is true that many parents have failed in their training process, and bear the blame for that failure, many parents have “a guilt complex,” taking the blame for things their child may do for which they (the parents) are not responsible.
Remember that grown children are responsible for making their own decisions, and parents should not take THAT responsibility. A simple illustration or two may clarify the point.
Suppose a parent does not read a Bible story every night to a child, or hold him on his lap and pray with him, and thereby fails to adequately set Christian standards. Is the parent guilty? Yes, he is guilty of failing to do as much as he could in that area. Then the child grows up and robs a bank. The parent thinks, “If I had been a little more concerned with spiritual values, my child MIGHT have learned some truths that would have helped to prevent this.” Is that true? Of course! But that does not make the parent guilty of what the child did. The parent is guilty of what he did that was wrong, or failed to do that was right. But he is not guilty of causing the child to rob the bank. We need to learn to feel guilty of the things of which we are guilty–and there are enough of those–without going through life with a guilt complex, bearing the burden of guilt for a responsibility that is not ours.
If you slap my face and I get angry and drive down the street at 70 mph, hit a telephone pole and kill myself, you may tell yourself, “I caused it.” You are wrong! You may be guilty of slapping my face (providing it did not need to be slapped by you), but you did not make me get in the car. You did not make me drive 70 mph, and you did not kill me! Acting like an idiot was my responsibility. This generation is especially bad about blaming society, parents, schools, and most everything else for the crimes and misdeeds and failures of children. We ARE to blame for our failures. But we ARE NOT to blame for the other person’s failures, and how he responds. Jesus was not to be blamed for the fact that Peter and Judas made such a mess of their responsibilities, although He had tried to train them carefully for three years.
But the thing I ultimately hope to get to is that it is my considered judgment that we have probably missed the thrust of what Solomon was saying in the first place. The context does not indicate that he had any reference to religious training, but that he is speaking of other general truths. I regret that I do not know enough about the Hebrew language to speak authoritatively about it, nor do I have access to any scholarly works which substantiate my conclusions, but let me give them anyway, in the hope that some able person will either confirm or refute it.
The verse is not in the Septuagint, so I can get no help from that, but the Massoretic Text says, “chanoth lannaar al pic darc,” which, loosely translated means, “Initiate (train, discipline) the child at the opening of HIS way.” That does not clarify much, but when I check every similar expression in the Old Testament, I am persuaded that the hint that Barnes gives points toward the proper meaning. Barnes says, “according to the tenor of his way, i. e. the path especially belonging to, specially fitted for the individual’s character. The proverb enjoins the closest possible study of each child’s temperament and the adaptation of `his way of life’ to it.”
The general truths which most commentators and preachers make about the values of training and disciplining a child in accordance with God’s Word (the way he should go) are good and proper. But the other truth that I think he is pointing out is that the training should conform to the “way of the child”–his nature, qualities and gifts. A person fitted to be a musician or a poet or artist should not be forced to learn to be proficient at football simply because his father was a famous quarterback, or to be a great lawyer because his father failed to be one! Do you imagine Beethoven would depart from the way he was trained as he might have if he had been trained to be a jockey or a hockey player?
The good thing about this article is that even if it is not a proper exegesis of the passage, it is sound advice pedagogically, psychologically, and theologically. The kind of instruction, training and discipline that is given should conform to his nature, qualities and development. The practice of that principle would do much good, no matter what Solomon meant.