ProdigalSon copy

Christian Parents of Non-Christian Children

God be with Christian parents of non-Christian children. They are heroes of the faith. In their Bibles, the edges around Proverbs 22:6 have grown once frayed and untouched, again, with memorization. Once, they read those words daily, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” After years, it grew harder to read. It certainly seemed like they had raised up their children in the way they should go. And it certainly seemed their children had departed. It was in the Bible, and how could it be wrong? Suspicion drew shadows of self-doubt at the edges of thoughts and sermons with the question, Where did I go wrong?

Finally, someone confirmed the parent’s suspicions, telling him as kindly as it could be said, “We must pay attention to genre when reading the Bible. Proverbs are wise sayings, not prophecies or promises.” Gray-haired heads nodded in a long-worn defeat. At least it didn’t seem like the Scripture lied, anymore.

That shook some of the earnestness of the questions. Yet, in the dark hours, they still returned. Did I really train him up in the way he should go? What about those times I lost my temper about frivolous tasks? What about my laziness? What about all of the millions of instances my sin overran my sense, leaving me selfish or godless? Where did I go wrong?

Still, on their most objective, honest days, the Christian parent knows that every Christian household consists of people, and every person wrestles with his own sin. It wasn’t a perfect place to grow up, but nowhere is a perfect place, and their home was among the good kind for gaining a Christian childhood. Still, the accuser in the back of their mind hisses that this is only an excuse, but the stable, honest Spirit dwelling in the heart vouches for its truth. The parent did the best job anyone could expect.

So, Proverbs turned into a memory, and the edges around the chapters on the prodigal son started to take on a comfortable, well-worn look. Prayers rose up, not in the tricky confidence of repeating a proverb to God, but in the yearning pain and hope of the father of the prodigal, and, after years, more frequently in thoughtful, answerless silence.

It’s a strange prayer, made fervent by standing alongside God and asking something for Him, rather than something for ourselves.

Maybe the world of heaven sees this process differently. Maybe the parent’s status is not due to distance between themselves and God, but due to closeness.

Perhaps God in His love knew at the creation of the world which future souls would be the most likely to turn to Him, and which would be the least. And, loving those rebellious souls with a love grand enough to create the cosmos, He wanted to pour into their lives everything He could that might turn them to salvation. So, He paired them with faithful Christian parents, knowing that those parents would give the rebellious children the greatest possible chance of turning to Him.

We would do the same if someone we loved were terminally ill; we would take him to the best doctors and give him the best medicine. It wouldn’t matter that it was a hopeless cause, because love demands that the lover do everything imaginable to save the beloved. In all the doctor visits and all the soothing balms, our love is spelled out.

Christian parents were the best witness God could put in the lives of these beloved souls. Eighteen years of daily exposure to Scripture and scriptural living provided their best chance of connecting with God. And, even if it was hopeless, His love was so great that it demanded that He give them everything He could.

He opened wide the doors of heaven to the prodigal children by opening wide the hearts of couples in whose heart He was center.

When the children left the faith, the parents grieved and God grieved. Yet, in the midst of their pain, He knew that those parents would continue to pray for their children, love them, reach out to them. For some, it brings them back. For others, it at least serves to soften the children’s hearts. For all such parents, it serves as a cross.

Maybe the question isn’t one of where the parents went wrong, but rather where they went right. Maybe the reason God gave them the children He did was because God trusted them to do exactly what they did. God be with those parents, praying at God’s side daily.

  • Steve Simms

    Thank you for the encouragement! I have a daughter who has walked away from God and I pray for her continually with my heart broken before God.

  • Al Gray

    It all depends what we mean by “non-Christian”. I assume the sub-text to the concern expressed in this article is the fear that these “non-Christians” are going to be slung into everlasting hell when they die. If that is true, then frankly it is not worth being a Christian anyway, because if this is what the Christian God is really like, then he is not worthy of the worship and obedience of any sane person. Does God really condemn people because of certain defective thoughts in their worldview? If that is the case, then who can be saved? After all, it is not as though all Christians agree on every point of doctrine. So if doctrine is the deciding factor, then how can we know how to be saved? And if the retort is that “people are judged on the basis of their acceptance of certain fundamental doctrines”, then really we would have to admit that doctrine doesn’t really matter at all. Why should a belief that Jesus is the Son of God (for example) be considered any more important than our view of how we should pursue matters of economic or social justice? Even Jesus (in Matthew 16) didn’t want the multitudes to know His true identity, and yet their belief that He was merely a prophet was no bar to Him blessing and healing them.

    I am reminded of an incident many years ago, when someone very close to me fell ill and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He dropped out of school in his late teens, and was so ill that he did not recognise his own parents. His parents went to visit him in hospital, of course, and how did they treat him? Did they condemn him because his mind was messed up and he did not know who these people were, who were visiting him? Were they angry with him? No. They had compassion on him. Now why would the God of all mercy treat people any differently? Why would God be so egotistical that he feels he needs to destroy a person, simply because their mind is messed up with false ideas?

    Clearly God looks at the heart, and our moral response to others is absolutely central to salvation – see Matthew 25. So I come back to my initial question: what is a non-Christian? Someone who is evil, or simply someone who has a different set of ideas in his mind from those held by professing Christians? On what basis will the God of all justice and intelligence judge the non-Christian? On the basis of their neglect to “tick all the right religious boxes” or on the basis of their heart – i.e. what they are as people?

    Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that my role as a Christian is NOT to “Christianise” the world, and obsess about the often imaginary conflict between “Christian versus non-Christian”, but to be a witness to the reality of God. How He then works in different lives is His business. Concerning salvation, our Lord stated that “the wind blows where it wishes. You hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it comes from and where it is going”. Salvation is much bigger than the pettiness and control agenda of the Christian sub-culture, and who is ‘in’ it and who is apparently not. The sovereign God sees the heart. Furthermore, if we believe that Jesus died for all, then that is an objective fact. Evangelicals are fond of claiming that Jesus’ death is only efficacious for those who actively believe it. But this is illogical. If Jesus paid the legal price for a person’s sin, then that is an objective fact, irrespective of whether the beneficiary of this work believes and accepts it or not. So from a purely legal point of view, there is a sense in which everyone is saved. But, of course, salvation is more than just legality. It is about what a person really IS in their heart. The truly evil person (and ‘evil’ is certainly NOT equivalent to ‘non-Christian’) will be tormented by the reality of the love of God, quite irrespective of whether that person was ‘Christian’ or ‘non-Christian’. That is the true meaning of hell. The love of God is hell for those who hate compassion.

    Your concern for the religious status of children is misplaced. What you should be concerned about is whether they are righteous or evil. What is their attitude to life? How do they treat other people? These are the really important questions.

  • Che

    Salvation is individual.
    Listen and be blessed!
    Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy