Religious or not, spiritual or not, many people believe in the following adage culled from the ‘Good Book’, which states in Proverbs 22:6 (NIV, note usage of ‘he’ is adherence to biblical script not any sort of masochism),
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Among many other interpretations, this verse has been interpreted to mean,
If you introduce your children to God while they are young they never will become godless, swearing, sodomizing, hedonistic, lascivious adults.
In light of this interpretation, whenever children of religious people turned against God and religion, it was the parents who failed, not the children. Many children, the reader perhaps inclusive have in adulthood rebelled against the God of their parents merely to prove “I can turn away from the way you (parents) taught me.” Were He indeed to exist, only God knows just how many adults have become and remain atheists merely as acts of rebellion against their parents’ way.
The fact of the matter? The verse above has nothing whatsoever to do with introduction of a child to God. Yes, there perhaps is some secondary relation to finding or discovery of God, but ‘finding of God’ is accomplished by the child while in course of the way he or she should go (see, no masochism here), the way shown by his or her parents, or guardians.
How do I know this? The verse does not say, ‘Train up a child in the way of God.’ It says ‘train up a child in the way he should go’. Now, granted one could include introduction to God in interpretation of ‘the way he should go’. But if the way he should go alludes only to introduction to God, we have that all every child knows is God, nothing else. We create then a society within which every child knows God, but has no knowledge of anything else; a society within which every child knows loads about heaven but is no earthly good. Clearly, this cannot be intention of a wise saying.
The most robust interpretation of the adage culled from the Good Book?
Help a child understand the best, most productive application of his gifts, ability, talents, and knowledge — his or her way — and when he or she is old, having developed his or her gifts, ability, talents, and knowledge under your direction he or she will have so much comparative advantage in his or her line of work he or she will not be able to depart from it.
In the pursuit of work that is noble from which a child who becomes a man (or woman) finds it is inopportune to depart there is opportunity for finding of God. In presence of evidence of uniquely honed abilities, there is a pointing towards possibility of a Creator God.
There is need for care of course in interpretation of ‘the way he should go’. The way he should go is not necessarily the parents’ way, or the family’s way. The way a child should go must be uniquely the child’s way, a way which remains robust until adulthood; a way which in adulthood a child can continue to own as his or her own way. Not the way foisted by the parents, the way an adult who possesses full consciousness and self awareness would himself or herself voluntarily choose, but on which parents set him or her on early in life for development of comparative advantage. Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Tiger Woods etc. are evidence of importance of comparative advantage whenever parents are able to set the right activities in front of their children early on in life.
“But Venus only won 8 Grand Slam titles or so you retort?”
“How many Grand Slam titles do you think Venus would have won if she had not started out as early as she did? Would it be more than eight?”
In reality, the adage culled from Proverbs 22:6 imposes a burden on parents to study their children so as to become aware of their strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and personalities (SWAP). In light of the fact that every child cannot be the same in all four dimensions, every child can be directed to the most productive use of combinations of their SWAP, resulting in mitigation of competition between siblings. There is increase in dysfunction within families particularly because, commencing with parents’ affection, siblings see each other as competing for the same resources. Application and implementation of Proverbs 22:6 enables mitigation of competition between siblings within families.
In the devotion of time and energy to understanding of each child’s SWAP, parents are able to love each child the same, yet love each child uniquely.
Do I have any corroboration for my interpretation of the age old adage in Proverbs 22:6? Consider the following words in Proverbs 8:22 (NKJV):
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old.
In the above verse, way is explicitly linked with works. In the ‘Good Book’ works mean actions not beliefs. So then ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ means ‘train up a child in the works on which to spend most of his or her energies’. But if parents are lazy, merely ‘training up children in the way that they the parents believe the child should go’, parents do not adhere to the spirit of the adage, do not love their children similarly, yet uniquely.
If train up a child focuses on activities into which children are guided, as opposed to belief in God, how then does God come into play? After all, the adage in question is culled from a book about God.
If parents celebrate only what is noble in children, training up of a child in the way he or she should go automatically embodies character training; automatically celebrates integrity, honesty, equity, justice, kindness, patience etc.; advocates nobility of character alongside most beneficial applications of children’s SWAPs. If we agree that ultimately purpose of belief in God is production of good character, celebration of the end outcome — good character — likely induces appreciation of a potential means — help from a Creator God, a God who can be appreciated for His endowment of unique set of SWAPs in each person.
Parents, stop giving your children excuses for rebellion against God, excuses for descent into heedless, hedonistic godlessness, evident not in ‘belief’ or ‘lack of belief’ in God, but lack of capacity for celebration of what is noble in the human race — integrity, honesty, equity, justice, kindness, patience etc. Regardless of belief or lack of belief in God, adults who cherish noble qualities of the human race never really can kick against God in context of what is most important in life — their choices, actions, treatment of others. If parents help children appreciate and celebrate noble qualities of our common human existence, the search for meaning in God safely can be entrusted to adult versions of same children.