25 May 2007

Why God gave you parents, etc.

by Dan Phillips

(This reflection was sparked by musing on Proverbs 24:19-20.)

Let's say you are about to embark on a journey you've never taken before. Let's say it is a high-risk journey. How do you prepare?

Well, you get a good map, and you study it. You get a ruler, maybe. You are here, and you want to get there. So you measure out which is the shorter course between these two points. You think you've found your route. It is short, you feel that you've considered every alternative, and this looks like the best way to get there.

Are you ready?

What if you know people who've already gone the route you're considering? What if they've already gone from Point A to Point B? Would it be smart to ask them? And, having asked, to listen? Of course it would — unless they're stupid, treacherous, or mean you harm.

So say you ask them, and they say, "Oh boy, do not go that way. It looks great when it's a line on paper, but you have no idea. It is a one-way road, for one thing. It is narrow, and winding. The road is full of pot-holes and sheer drop-offs you can't see until you've already gone over them. There is no need to go that way. We can show you three other ways, but for mercy's sake, do not go that way!"

Do you shrug it off, say "Thanks," and go with your paper-knowledge?

You do... if you're a fool. Consider Proverbs 22:3—"The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it."

One level of application is, I think, plain. But what if you're not "prudent" (`arúm) in the sense of shrewd, experienced, savvy? Perhaps it is because you are "simple." This is the word petî, so often found in Proverbs, generally translated simple or naive. This is the young man who simply has not had the years and experience to build a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. He isn't yet settled hither or thither; he isn't yet wise, nor a scoffer.

What does such a young woman or man need? He needs wise folks who have had and used that time, who have built that framework and tested it out.

Now, Proverbs itself supplies that need. Solomon states at the outset that he was intending the book "to give prudence to the simple" (Proverbs 1:4, using the same two roots noted above). So the study of Proverbs itself, as well as of the rest of the Bible, is essential in the building of a prudent framework.

But what does Proverbs itself say, as well? Over and over it says "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8), "My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 6:20), "Listen to your father" and "do not despise your mother" (Proverbs 23:22) , "My son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26), and so on.

Why does it do this? For one reason, because Solomon took seriously God's own counsel to give great weight to father and mother (cf. 4:3f.). There is a rich, broad, and deep Biblical teaching on this subject: please read A word to Christian yoots.

Another reason is the nature of youth. Young people by definition are full of confidence and vigor. They want to conquer the world. They think they can. They see themselves (often) as so much smarter than those old, dull-witted folks who keep trying to talk to them. They've got it all worked out. So they don't think they need to listen to their parents, etc.

But they do. So Solomon tells them. And tells them, and tells them.

But also, there is need to listen to those with experience that you don't have. This is part of why Proverbs repeatedly admonishes "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12:15), "By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom" (Proverbs 13:10), "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22); " Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future" (Proverbs 19:20).

Nor is that in particular peculiar to the young. When I embarked on Career Plan B (temporary, I pray), I became what is derisively and deservedly called a "paper MCSE." That means that I did a bunch of studying, took some nasty tests, and got various computer certifications — but virtually the only experience I had was that of studying for the tests!

And so in my first positions, I leaned crushingly heavily on some extraordinarily patient people who, unlike me, had experience. If I had refused to do that, I would have been a forty-plus-year-old fool.

But is Solomon counseling us to be slaves to every latest bit of advice we get? Is he binding us to slavish obedience to foolish, evil, malicious parents? Of course not.

His God-breathed counsel grows out of the whole Canon, and out of the book's particular recurring theme: consider the end. Again and again Solomon says, "I know this path looks great at its outset: but let me tell you where it leads...."

Now, in some cases, one does not need experience to tell this. Are you tempted to adultery? You don't need to ask someone who has committed adultery whether or not this is a smart move. God says, in so many words, "Bridge out!" That's all the "experience" we need.

But what of life's huge, major decisions where there is no Divine dictum, no "Thou shalt/shalt not"?

Those are the ones where we most need the framework of Divine revelation, and some advice or counsel from wise, godly, experienced folks.

And that's why God gave you a Mommy and a Daddy.

But the title says "etc.," and that is because that is also why He gave you pastors, and great writers of ages past, and godly friends.

Now, to anticipate a certain question: "What if my ____ is foolish, ungodly, unbelieving, or means me harm?"

That will complicate it greatly. You still may glean something. If they're your parents, you still must respect their position, and honor them in every way you can.

But if your parents/friends/advisors are not foolish, ungodly, or malicious, you're a fool if you don't seriously consider their counsel.

The only cure for naïveté is a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. Young man, young woman, you don't have it yet.

That's why God gave you parents — et cetera!

(And sometimes we old guys at Pyro get to try to be your "et cetera"!)

Dan Phillips's signature


donsands said...

Very nice exhortation.

There are times when my pride fights against listening to good counsel. Though i for the most part will listen, and actually desire others, who are more mature, to share their thoughts and wisdom with me.
As far as those proud times, the Lord knows how to whittle me down, and He's faithful to do it. It sure don't feel too good, but in the long run it's for my good and His glory.

FX Turk said...

I was with you until you said that we Pyros get to be the "et cetera".

Phil, as a pastor, is the only one of us who is ever remotely "et cetera". We're more like friends who have taken some lumps from which others can benefit.

Other than that, play on.

FX Turk said...

BTW, I may be about to contradict myself here as we work this out, so if I do, I'll gladly be everyone's et cetera.

DJP said...

Frank, if it weren't you, I'd tell you to re-read the post.

You don't have to be a pastor to be an et cetera.


Stefan Ewing said...

Once upon a time, a long time I ago, I took Luke 14:26 to heart, except I omitted the rather crucial* "If anyone comes to me" part.

Oddly, I had to meet my wife and travel with her to South Korea to learn from a Confucian belief system what listening respectfully to elders—even when I thought they were completely wrong—really meant.

My comment doesn't really have a point, but, um, "good post."

* Pun intended.

Trinian said...

That's a really great lesson!

On the other side of things, though, strive to not be the sort of parent/friend/adviser who says (metaphorically) "There is a lion outside! You'll be slain in the streets!" We need good, balanced advise, not just blanket, fearful warnings.

Trinian said...

Also... you guys can always be my et cetera.

You had me at the graphic of Phil tubing.

DJP said...

Sewing, that's a good point. My wife was talking with an Asian friend, who was very emphatically making the point that there's no "stop listening to your parents" in Asian culture.

The working model I adopted long ago: in minority years, parents are in the chain of command; after, they're in the chain of counsel.

brentjthomas said...

There is a saying,"Omnia dicta fortiera si dicta Latina". With that in mind I humbly declare, with respect, that I tune in to this blog because I regard the fine thinkers among the Pyromaniacs to be among my "et cetera" and "et alii", and I mean this "ex animo".

Kim said...

Frank, if your lumps can teach me something valuable, I'll take what I can learn from them.

DJP said...

Haec amo.

Stefan Ewing said...

Maybe Reformed Theology really is just Christianity for us nerds....

Dr Fin said...

I'm with Dan on this one: one doesn't have to be in a full-time ministerial position to be an "et cetera" in another's life. In fact, some of my best friends and influences are et cetera.

FWIW, I have plenty of lumps. Mostly I think it's from eating too much, though. My waistline is way lumpy.

FX Turk said...


If only you could learn from Buggy's lumps. You'd be brilliant.


Anonymous said...

The major "et cetera" in my life is my spouse. As a friend of mine used to say that had the same experience, "The Holy Spirit often speaks to me - in the voice of my wife."

Unknown said...

I've been studying Proverbs for the past month and only on chapter 10. I've gleaned so much and as an adult I'm listening to those older than me, God put them there for a reason! Proverbs is a humble reminder of my own foolishness, and I'm able to spot a fool from a mile away :-)

Your post is timely.

James Scott Bell said...

Sometimes, too, guys get into the position of "professional et cetera" when they themselves have not taken ANY lumps. Like the youngsters who come out of Bible college or seminary.

I think we need more pastors who become pastors at 40 or 50.

Strong Tower said...

Are we there yet? Can I drive? Are there, yet? Where we going? Do we have to go there again? Are we there yet? What's this do?

Proverbs are mostly acredited to a man who seeming forgot them most of the time. They were given to him by parents who likewise didn't apply them well.

The proverbs though were expired by the Spirit by which Christ kept them perfectly for them and us.

Though our shining examples could not do what the proverbs said, faithyfully, always, they were still faithfully and always truthful to deliver the message and were pleasing servants and not like the unfaithful servant who is a pain to him who sent him.

Parents do not do all that they tell us. That does not negate the nuggets of wisdom embedded in the ore of their lives. We still must test those things like silver refined to see if they are of God.

When Jesus was twelve we encounter something that for Christians is a little different than the wisdom of the world. We see that praise had been perfected in the mouth of a child. Wisdom is proven right by her children. Mary had done her part, but now Jesus must be about his Father's business. Later, he would rebuke his mother again, and then again deny her because she thought him mad. "Who is my mother...he who keeps my commands." There comes a time when we as Christians must look past the fleshly relationships. In the economy of Christ those who are students, if they should learn anything must share it with their teacher. Then, there comes a time when even our parents, if we truly love them, we cease submission to them, and no longer listen to them, but instead become their keepers, responsible for their daily bread, if we have learned to listen the the Spirit of Christ in us.

In our relationship with the Father, our Elder Brother and the Holy Spirit, we will never rise even to their level, let alone above them. But in the real world, the lesser becomes the greater. We learn, not because all that our mentors in the flesh teach us is good, nor is all that they do good. But, they set a path for us to follow. In that they teach us that there is the Way, the Truth and the Life that is beyond them.

Along with my dictatorial paternal nature, as Lordodamanor, in all that I teach and do before my children I give them this weighty balance: "I do not want you to be like me. I cannot be trusted. The Word teaches us to trust not even the brethren, no, not even the woman at your breast. Trust God, His word is Truth. Fix your eyes on Christ the Author and Finisher of our faith and run with perserverance the path marked out before you. I am going to die, you must go on without me."

separateunion said...

This subject is something I have had to grapple with over the last couple of years. Feeling a need to create independence for myself, I ignored my parents exhortations and made some very poor decisions. My independence WAS gained, but in the process I nearly ruined my own life and almost destroyed my relationship with my family. The ironic thing is, now, I realize they were right about almost everything they'd said in the very beginning. If I'd just listened, I would've saved myself much grief, but God had a greater plan and did not the let mistakes I made have a lasting effect. This blog was just a reminder of everything that has happened to me over the last two years. Thank you.

Kim said...


You mean I'm not already brilliant? Oh dear, I'm so embarrassed.

Seriously, I could never be as brilliant as my hubby, no matter how many lumps he gets. Curiously, he has one on his forehead that almost every sunday school student we've ever had in the last ten years has asked about.