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When Children Go Astray

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me.’”—Isaiah 1:2

"O My people, what have I done to you? And how have I wearied you? Testify against Me.”—Micah 6:3

The story is as old as mankind. God created Adam and Eve. He gave them a perfect home. It was not just a good home. It was free from disease and death and sin. The first couple had everything they needed. But they threw it all away for a moment of sinful pleasure. God drove them out of the garden and they never returned.

Adam and Eve at first had two sons—Cain and Abel. Cain was very angry when God refused his offering. He took out his rage on his brother and killed him. Why? The answer is simple: “Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (I John 3:12). What an incredible loss to his parents.

The book of Genesis records many cases of children who rebelled against their parents. Noah had trouble with Ham (Gen. 9:22). Abraham’s son Ishmael grew into a “wild man” (Gen. 16:12). Isaac and Rebekah had twins who didn’t get along. Jacob got the best of Esau and Esau vowed to kill him (Gen. 27). At the same time, Esau’s wives worried his parents to death (Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46). Jacob had all kinds of problems with his kids. They worried him when they lied and murdered and committed fornication, but they really broke his heart when they sold Joseph and led him to believe that this son was dead (Gen. 37).

Sometimes parents in the Bible contributed to their children’s fall. David had trouble with his children for the rest of his life because of his sin with Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan told him, “The sword shall never depart from your house” (II Sam. 12:10). The chapters that follow these words show that David had one heartache after another because of his children. Eli is another example. His sons were evil but he wouldn’t do what he should have as a father or a judge to restrain them. God said, “I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (I Sam. 3:13).

At other times there is no indication that the parents were to blame. Samuel was a righteous man. According to Jeremiah 15:1, he was one of the best men in the Bible. But his sons weren’t like him. They were evil men (I Sam. 8:3). From all indications, the parents of the stubborn and rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 had done what they could to teach and correct him but to no avail. He would not “obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother” (v. 18). Sometimes one parent can get through to a child when the other one cannot. But not in this case. This son was too rebellious. But did they just talk to him without disciplining him more severely? That wasn’t the problem. They had “chastened” him but he still wouldn’t listen (v. 18). The son was to blame, not the parents.

Many young people are rebelling these days. Sometimes the parents are at fault for not teaching them respect for God and for others. Children are growing up in darkness without any moral guidance. They live in homes full of lies, profanity, drugs, prostitution, and sexual, physical and verbal abuse. Some of them have two or three places where they sleep and others turn to a life of theft or prostitution. It is a tragedy that millions of parents have brought children into this world with no intention of training them to do right.

Sometimes parents do the best they know how and still the children rebel against them. This is one of the hardest trials parents can face. It is easy to feel some control over what kids do when they are little. But when they are old enough to decide for themselves they can shock you. There are good Christian parents whose children have turned their back on God. They are turning to atheism, homosexuality, and false religions. Public schools, television, and especially the internet have plunged them into temptations that parents never expected.

Parents who have done their best usually feel guilty even when they shouldn’t. They look back at what they should have said or not said. They think about decisions that were not the wisest. They look for any answer to the question “What did I do wrong?” This is common. Conscientious parents often question themselves. But in the end parents, especially Christian parents, should come back to a central fact: every person chooses for himself or herself. Read Ezekiel 18. A good man can have a bad son and a bad father can have a good son. God gives every child free will to decide. And no parent is perfect.

In times when our hearts are breaking because of the choices of our children, it helps to remember the verses we began with. If God has experienced this with His children from the start, we should not faint when it happens to us.


West End church of Christ bulletin article for October 22, 2023


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