As Israel continues to have an authority crisis at the beginning of 2 Samuel, I would like to focus elsewhere for a belated Father’s Day post based on a famous proverb. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” For years I have heard people question their past parenting because they have witnessed their own children abandon faith in God and deviate from virtue. One of the more painful aspects of this questioning from the faithful is their familiarity with the verse above. If raising children in the way they should go means as adults they will not depart from it, then it seems like many have failed to raise their kids on the right path. I would argue that though this is possible, a better understanding of what the proverbs intend to communicate would help assuage parental anguish over the chosen direction of their children.
The proverbs are not unconditional promises but statements about how the world works and how to live wisely in the world. Generally speaking, if you want your child to grow into virtuous people you need to raise them to that end. Do virtuous adults come out of disastrous households? Absolutely, that does happen. Are some children raised with emotionally, physically, and spiritually supportive homes as well as discipline, only to reject their parent’s ways? Of course, this happens. This proverb is not telling us what will happen in all situations, but telling us in all situations the most likely way to produce the hoped-for goal of raising up wise, God-fearing adults. It is far more likely to happen in homes led by wise, God-fearing adults. The proverbs are less like promises and more like directives for living wisely in our complex world.