“Mom, what should I do when Harry tells me he won’t be my friend, unless I let him cheat on the spelling test?” “Dad, if we’ve been working so hard to save money, how come we’re not going to Barbados like Mia?” “Mom, why did that celebrity die when they worked so hard, had such great health care, and went to the gym every day?”
Little people ask big questions. To our embarrassment, toddlers do not nuance their inquiries about injustice. Even teenage children humbly cross-examine Mom and Dad when their worldview crumbles. On one hand, as their parents, we love receiving such questions. We rejoice in participating in their intellectual exploration. We cherish that in an uncertain world we are still their rock (at least for a few more years). Yet, often we find ourselves tongue-tied. We replay conversations and notice the deficiency of our advice and of our answers.
Indeed, if you are a Christian parent, then you, like me, often find yourself fluctuating between speedy, time-crunched responses and answers that swiftly springboard to Jesus. With regard to the former, we encourage our child to simply “tell the teacher”; we explain that Mia’s parents won the lottery and can now afford such luxury vacations; we skirt the topic of death lest we make our children overly anxious.
At other times, our answers are more thorough and infused with gospel zest. We point our children to Christ. We talk about Jesus’ love for the tax collector (and even the spelling test cheat), or Christ’s displeasure at the deceitful Harrys of this world. We explain that we’re called to contentment even if our friends are vacationing in the tropics. We use the tragic passing of the young and successful celebrity to speak of the importance of trusting in Jesus before we die.
The latter gospel strategy has much potential spiritual benefit, and the former answers are not wrong. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that neither approach gets us to the heart of our children’s dilemmas—“Dad, what do I do in the face of this real spelling test predicament?” “Mom, why is it that sometimes the bad guys go on vacation and the good guys to the grave?”
Where do we take our children to answer them comprehensively? We should take them to the School of Wisdom—to the often-neglected Old Testament books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. In these precious books, God helps us shepherd our children as they navigate the “what-should-I-dos” of a world that has been ordered by our Creator, and the “why-sos” (of a world that has been broken by His creatures).
What Should I Do? Answers from the Elementary Classroom of Proverbs
The book of Proverbs has a very clear educational refrain. In the opening nine chapters, we meet a father appealing to his son—telling him to heed his lessons. Furthermore, in that section, Wisdom is personified as a female schoolteacher calling the simple into her classroom (Prov. 9:1–6). From chapter ten onward, numerous wise saying are then imparted. Hence, teaching our children Proverbs is like taking them to elementary school.
Proverbs makes sense of life. It provides the foundation for many decisions in life. It reveals that the world has an order to it because it has been made by an orderly Creator. It tells us that if we follow the Maker’s instructions, we are more likely to live happily ever after. Taking our initial example, we may employ Proverbs to help our children navigate their relationships—“One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov. 12:26)—while giving them amusing illustrations of what eventually becomes of the spelling test cheat—“Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel” (Prov. 20:17). Why not teach your children to memorize three or four proverbs over the course this next year?
Why Do the Good Guys Lose? Answers from the High School Classroom of Job
It has recently been shown that children as young as twelve months recognize injustice. Hence it is no wonder that one of their first phrases is “That’s not fair!” Indeed, as our children grow up, they must increasingly come to terms with the absence of justice in a sinful world. Although the eternal truths of Proverbs still stand, the complexity and corruption of our world ensures that gritty obedience to Woman Wisdom will not always result in visible gain. Yes, “wealth gained hastily [often] dwindles” (Prov. 13:11) and “whoever brings blessing [normally] will be enriched” (Prov. 11:25), but sometimes atheists win the lottery and go fishing in Barbados, while people who give to the gospel endure the family staycation.
If any book in the Bible speaks to such a theme, it is Job. Hence, as our children get older, we must regularly take them to this high school classroom. For Mr. Job teaches mature students that life in a broken world is not always straightforward and that the righteous often suffer. This is not to say that the God of order, who “laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:3–4) is periodically out of control—in fact, quite the opposite. God consents to Job’s suffering, and in His sovereignty, Job ends as a man more blessed and more righteous than at the beginning. Accordingly, not only does Job help our children to perceive the dangers of an Eliphaz-like self-assurance, self-righteousness, and insensitivity to other’s suffering, but it also helps them to appreciate God’s ever-ripening purposes when their own lives are tough. Moreover, such discussions often provide an even better segue to Christ, His sufferings at the cross, and God’s ultimate and glorious plan.
Why Do the Bad Guys Win? Answers from the College Classroom of Ecclesiastes
Akin to the unfairness of sometimes seeing good guys lose is the injustice of seeing the bad guys win. Or, to put it as our teenage children might: Why shouldn’t I just join the pleasure-seeking crowd? Why should I patiently and faithfully obey Miss Proverbs if when I get to the top all I feel is hollowness? In an increasingly experience-saturated culture, these questions are often much closer to the surface in our children’s minds than perhaps we’d like to think. So where do we take them?
At this juncture, we walk them down the corridor of the School of Wisdom and into the college classroom of another lecturer—the Preacher in Ecclesiastes—who also seeks to educate the young. For Ecclesiastes is a book all about the importance of being wise in light of the fact that life is short. Hence, Ecclesiastes helps our children view life from the vantage point of the end. While many young people run after splendor, sex, fame, and fortune—doing all they can to show that they are winning—Mr. Ecclesiastes bursts the bubbles of such Instagrammable triumphs with the reality of our impending death (Eccl. 7:2) and judgment thereafter (12:14). Hence, Ecclesiastes helps our children rightly frame earthly pleasures and security. It helps them answer the intricate questions of life by keeping in mind the inescapabilty of death. And from here, as parents, not only can we address the heart of their most tricky questions, but we are a very short step away from speaking to them of the joy of the resurrection and the hope that we have in Christ.
Next time your child asks you a difficult question, why not walk them to the School of Wisdom? Who knows, maybe some of your own questions will be answered there.