“everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.” Ezekiel 18:4
What could be more grievous to Christian parents than to have their adult child reject the Gospel? Some children go through a season of rebellion and return to the Lord, but when a grown child makes a cogent decision to forsake the essential truths of Christianity it is heart wrenching. I’d like to share some things parents commonly experience when this happens and try to offer a little encouragement for those going through this.
Any parent who has faithfully raised their children in the Lord will experience a range of emotions when their child abandons the faith. Self-examination prompts them to consider, “Had we done a better job of this, or had not allowed that, would things have turned out differently?”
Hindsight usually turns up some things the parents might have changed yet we know that David was a man after God’s own heart and Absalom rebelled anyway. And what about Isaac’s beloved Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew and married two Hittite women in violation of God’s commands (Gen. 24:3)? Romans 9 gives us the reason for that whole situation.
Because training in Biblical parenting is often focused on being a “successful” parent, there’s usually not much preparation for the possibility that a child might grow up and reject the faith. Unfortunately, not many books give attention to the sovereignty of God in our children’s salvation.Consequently, when children fall away the parents can feel like failures and may sense judgement from other Christians. Unbelieving friends and family who don’t understand the spiritual dynamics involved may be critical because of the parents refusal to condone their child’s beliefs or practices.
In short, these are parents who are grieving for their child’s soul and also for the loss of the sweet relationship they once enjoyed, but may find little encouragement from others.
SOLACE IN GOD’S SOVEREIGNTYWhen our kids were young, there was a popular teaching going around that the sins of the parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents are somehow spiritually transmitted to their children and this alleged generational bondage needed to be broken. As a 29 year old mom this freaked me out until I learned that it was a misinterpretation of Numbers 14:18. There's a wonderful passage in the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel that debunks this notion and offers great hope to everyone, especially parents.
“ The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.” (vs. 1-4)The passage goes on to illustrate how every person will be judged individually regardless of their heritage, but that any person can be fully forgiven no matter how awful their sin is if they repent and turn to the Lord.
But did you notice verse 4? The Lord said “every one belongs to me. The parent as well as the child.” Yes, even the rebellious and unbelieving belong to the Lord to do with as He chooses. I find this very comforting. Parents can find rest knowing that God is sovereign over their child’s destiny regardless. Can we say it often enough? “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Ps. 3:8). If it had been up to me I would have never chosen Christ, and that also applies to my children. It is God alone who saves whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, and we know that He is a good and merciful God.
So then, if it is God who determines our destiny and not ourselves, what role can a concerned parent have in this? Pray! Pray! Pray! If this describes your current situation, leave your beloved child at the throne of grace because that is the only place of hope for any of us. The fact that God continues to prompt you to pray for your child should be an encouragement!A PURITAN’S WORD OF ADVICE
“Abhor it as a great sin to faint under this affliction, that is, either to be disabled for thy duty or to sink thy comforts. It is a sign that thou didst place too much of thy happiness in thy children, if their wickedness make thee faint under this calamity. I shall only plead with thee, as Joab did with David when he made that bitter lamentation for his son Absalom, “Thou has declared this day, that thou regardes neither princes, nor servants” (2 Sam. 19:6). So I say to thee, thou hereby declares that thou regardest not God and Christ, if thy soul faint under the burden of a disobedient child.This is an affliction that ordinarily befalls God’s dearest children. Ye must not think of this as if ye were the first godly parents of ungodly children, or as if herein some strange thing happened unto you.” 1 – Edward Lawrence
1. Parents' Groans Over Their Ungodly Children by Edward Lawrence