Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
I’m not very good with children, to me they’re creatures that have yet to form a logical train of thought, and therefore I find it hard to communicate with them. I once engaged in a lengthy discourse on children with a Sunday School teacher, and tried to argue that even if a child is taught the right way, he may not choose the right way when he has grown up. I was out to bait her into an argument, I admit, but the logic I was following was a rather worldly and selfish way of thinking. A child raised in good circumstances and taught the right morals can become evil; and a child raised in the streets and never taught the right things can still turn out a noble man. Why then do we bother to teach children? Proverbs 22:6 takes my question on in a biblical point-of-view. The precepts of God ought to br rightly and adequately taught to a person even from childhood, and if so, when he is old he will not turn from it.
Train a child in the way he should go – Let us first look at why the term ‘train’ was used. There are some other translations that used other terms like ‘teach’ and direct, but there are a significant number of translations that use the term ‘train’ and that is curious enough. While the general idea is similar, there are some differences between ‘training’ somebody and ‘teaching’ somebody. Training suggests a series of disciplined and similar actions in order to condition one’s body and mind to remember how to do a certain thing. So it’s like showing a child how to go again and again, until he gets it, until he remembers it, until he can walk the way instinctively and with his eyes closed because his body and mind has already been trained to do it.
and when he is old he will not turn from it – Is this always true? My very first reaction is to doubt. For example, if you teach a child not to steal, is it a guarantee that that child will not steal when he grows up? I don’t think it works that way. I’m not a parent, nor do I profess to be a teacher of children – I will be the first to admit that I’m not the best at dealing with children. There are many ways of parenting, and this is perhaps not a science. There is no one way that will work for every child.
How do you ensure that you have not just taught a child, but have trained him or her to remember the way he should go? We probably cannot ensure that. Many children will learn, but few apply. Why is it that so many people were raised in Christian environment, yet leave the faith, leave the Church and leave the Lord when they are old enough to make a decision? I thank God because this verse says train a child in the way he should go, and not the way he must go. There’s still the element of choice. You teach. You train. But ultimately, it is up to the child to walk as he has been taught to. Yet what we can do as mentors and parents and teachers is to relentlessly train them to walk in the right path. Who are we to guarantee that they will never stray from the path? But if they were never taught and exposed to the right path – it would take a miracle for them to find the right path.
Therefore, how early should a child be exposed to Christianity? Why, as early as possible, of course. It is the responsibility of the parents and the teachers to lead a child to the knowledge of the saviour. The stronger his knowledge of God as a child, the stronger the bond that he has with God – and that is ultimately what will lead him to walk on the right path – Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord [Eph 6:4
I was born and raised in a Christian family, and as a child I went to Sunday School and memorized all those verses – I dare say that there were times when I came to a fork in life and it had been some of these verses stored in some corner of my memory that jumps out at me and saved me from making the wrong turn – even if just barely. It’s not merely the teaching. These verses from proverbs are not the same as the proverbs from all the wise old ancient hermits, even if they’re morally similar. It’s not really about the teaching that holds the value – it’s the fact that these teachings come from the word of God, God whom I’ve had such a long relationship with since I was a child. Having experienced God as a child, having seen how my parents and teachers lead christian lives and seeing how different they are from other adults, it is my faith in God that I fall back on – faith in God that has been trained up by relentless teachings and experienced through numerous life incidences.
Parenting is not easy. Teaching a child is not easy. The society invests a lot in children and in young people for a good reason – they are the future. They have a future. It’s not much different in the Church context. How we raise our children in Church today will determine to a large extent how the Church will be in the future. God gives us the best for sure. Let us give our children the best too. Perhaps not materially, perhaps not even emotionally, but let us strive to give them the platform to establish the best relationship they can with God.