Right from the Start

Psalm 119:9-16 (NRSV)
How can young people keep their way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
    all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve had a few parents tell me an odd theory about their children’s religious upbringing. Essentially, they told me they intended to bring up their children with no religious instruction at all, allowing their kids to “choose for themselves” when old enough.

Surprisingly, some of the parents had been raised with the benefit of a religious education—Sunday school and such, if not more.

It continues to strike me as a terribly dangerous strategy, one that assumes a child exists in some sort of theological vacuum until reaching adulthood. “Theology” roughly translates as “reasoning about God.” Understanding how God has defined holy and unholy behaviors since the earliest days of civilization is critical to this process.

Children are, of course, deeply impressionable, and if their parents aren’t helping them develop a sense of right and wrong rooted in theology, people in the world will be happy to introduce them to all sorts of notions that may be very ungodly, and even deadly.

Frankly, I doubt if these parents actually left their children to their own devices. They almost certainly told their children what they considered permissible and impermissible, not realizing they simply were teaching their version of righteousness—likely a mish-mash of thought disconnected from the true source of righteousness. “But why?” must have been a tough question to answer.

Today’s verses from Psalm 119 tell us of the importance of exploring God’s word from an early age. In my mind, the pattern for Christian education is simple. Children need to learn the stories of the Bible, being allowed to ask the good questions they always have.

As they grow into adolescence, they then learn to take the principles found in those stories, principles often more fully developed in the non-narrative portions of the Bible, and apply what they have learned to their own lives.

By the time they are young adults, they have begun an ongoing process of interaction with Scripture, a process that should continue for a lifetime. What we pray for them is a life full of deep and nuanced theological thought, one resulting in actions aligned with God’s will.

Lord, bless the children we bring to you with understanding, and may that understanding grow into the wisdom so desperately needed in the future as they take their place among our leaders. May they lead the world down a path headed directly toward you. Amen.

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