Most people, whether theoretically or subconsciously, think that the purpose of parenting is to make successful children. They should be successful socially or financially or spiritually. Ideally, all of the above. The problem with this idea is that it sets an anthropocentric standard for parenting that looks for outcomes that only God ultimately has control over.
Certainly, one should strive to form their kids this way, but these results cannot determine the standard of successful parenting because an atheist can accomplish the first two without teaching anything about God, giving absolutely no glory to God whatsoever, and the final result can only be accomplished by God and can be done so with or without the parent's help.
In other words, the first two can be godless and the last one is only up to God. If one accomplishes the first two goals with his children but the last is not accomplished then he might say that he has failed at parenting. Likewise, if the last one is accomplished but not the first two, he might still think he has failed as a parent.
The problem with all of this is that it simply isn't biblical. If any or all of them were the result of successful parenting and the lack of any or all of them were the result of bad parenting, we would have to conclude that God is a bad parent because many if not most of the children of His creation fail to accomplish one or all of these three. Are we really prepared to say that God is not a good parent?
Instead, biblical parenting is about representing God in one's parenting regardless of outcomes. In other words, you may get better results if you parent in a way that does not represent God. Certainly, if you always affirm your children in whatever they do, you'll have a better social relationship with your kids. If you tell them that they can do anything they set their minds to do, and teach them something very "new agey" about themselves, that confidence may give them greater success in the workplace and in their relationships. But, biblically speaking, you have failed to parent biblically and to give God glory in your parenting.
And what is it to parent according to God's glory? Glorifying God means that you lift God up over yourself and your child in order to communicate who God is in relationship to your child through representing God in the way you parent. In other words, you as a parent represent God and in doing so you communicate law and gospel to your child the way that God communicates law and gospel to His people in the Bible. You communicate God's authority (i.e., the fear of God and His judgments) and His character (i.e., the law) and the love and mercy of God through the gospel.
Your child may not believe in God in the end. That wasn't God's goal with your parenting. Obviously, we all want our children to be saved and it is a part of our goal and hope, but in the end that is God's eternal decision and not a result of the works that you do. All you can do is seek to represent God accurately through your parenting, and that means you must represent the Bible's communication of God accurately in everything you do with your child.
If your child turns away from God when they are grown, it should not be because you did not communicate God accurately but rather because you did and God chose not to regenerate your child.
What this means is that any alternative type of parenting that does not seek to communicate God according to the Bible, but according to what is right in your own eyes with your own goals in mind, is wicked regardless of the results.
One might say that it is not about the destination but the journey. It is not about the ends but the means. We might also say that the ends is the means. The job of the parent is not the result but to communicate God correctly in the process. That is the way that God parents His people with varying results as He has decreed it.
Now, we hope and pray that the results will be that they are saved in the end. We desire that they would be successful in their social and financial endeavors, and we incorporate things into parenting that look forward to that success, but we are unfaithful to the goal of parenting if we adopt any systems and theories of parenting that do not represent God the way that the Bible does. For this reason, the greatest parenting book is the Bible (Law and Gospel).
Note: Law, of course, is not just the literal laws in the Torah or Epistles but also the wisdom in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, etc.).
The home is the smallest unit in the government of the church and the state. The purpose of both of these is to represent God accurately, not to have perfect results in everyone's behavior and relationship with God. We would desire it but that is clearly not God's purpose. We have people who become criminals regardless of whether a government represents the fear of God accurately and we have people rebel against the church and reject Christianity regardless of whether the church represents God accurately through the Scripture. If it is not about the results but whether we are faithful in representing God correctly in the larger family of church and state, why would we ever think that the purpose of the home would be something different?
This article was originally published at https://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/2022/09/what-is-purpose-of-parenting.html on September 29, 2022.
Bryan Hodge (BA, Moody Bible Institute; MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas, NV. He is husband to Allison and father of nine.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.