Yesterday I posted on facebook a quote from a puritan named William Gouge. In his exposition of Ephesians 6 he made this observation: "when parents are too indulgent over their children, God does punish the sin both of parent and child, by shortening the child's days."
He was observing that just as the scripture contains a promise of long life and prosperity to those who obey their parents, so does it warn those who disobey their parents that they deserve death. Many people took issue with this statement by Gouge. Even one "pastor" said he showed people at his church and mocked it. He should know better and I am saddened by that response.
I still affirm this quote by Gouge and I believe that is faithful to biblical teaching. One theme that kept popping up in the pushback from other commentators was the idea of exceptions to the rule. People asked about those who die young and were obedient or those who were faithful parents and had children who rebelled. What about the exceptions?
First of all, we don’t sacrifice the normal on the alter of the abnormal nor the general on the alter of the exception. The Bible has a lot of general promises that we would do well to believe and hold. For example, the general promise is that if you raise up your child in the way he should go when he is old, he will not depart from it. What a wonderful promise to parents that they should treasure. This, however, does not mean though that God in his good will and pleasure may not allow something else to happen. God may allow the child to go astray like the prodigal son. This exception to the promise does not invalidate the promise but shows that God is God and he does what is right. As the book of Romans says, God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. In the cases where God allows these things, he has a good purpose and we can trust that even the rebellion of our children will be a part of all the things that God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.
Furthermore, the promise to long life that attends the commandment to obey your parents is also a general promise. God in his good pleasure may determine that there is something better for the obedient child than long life. He may decide to take the life of a young man who was and is honoring his father in order to protect that young man from something else or to use that young man in a mighty display of the gospel. Again, this exception to the promise does not invalidate the promise. It shows that God may give above and beyond what he promises. William Gouge said: “God does never simply deprive his Saints of that which is promised, but only instead of it gives a better: as in taking away wealth, he gives the more store of grace: in restraining liberty of body, he gives freedom of conscience: with affliction he gives patience: by taking away this temporal life, he gives eternal life. God herein deals, as if one who having promised so much iron, should instead thereof give as much silver: or for silver give gold: and so for one pound give the worth of hundreds or thousands."
In these cases, we must trust God above all. He is a good father who gives good gifts to his children. He is also a just judge which is why he warns those who dishonor their parents that they are walking a dangerous path. Those who dishonor their parents and disobey should tread lightly. They may find that their life is ended short. If it is not ended short, it may be prolonged so that they may face earthly consequences for their disobedience or so that they may store up wrath for themselves when they do die.
Christian parents should keep all of this in mind. They should know that they have an awesome responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They should pray for and long for the salvation of their children. They should believe the promises of God for their children and they should fear the warnings of God for their children. In doing so, they will not abrogate their responsibility and over indulge their children. They will see that to do so is to harm their children and is a grave sin against God and their children. They will instead strive to teach their children faith and obedience to Christ.
The following are some scripture texts to meditate on and are foundational for this post:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.