“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
“That’s a pain so deep no one can touch it,” Em said. A half century ago she spoke to me of her son. Not all our children fully adopt our faith. For one young man, Jim, there were questions about the faith, a faith he had embraced at his mother’s knee. Just a little guy then, yet his profession of faith seemed real and, with occasional teenage time-outs, he tried to live it. But now there were questions. Still, no hint of what was soon to come.
After college graduation Jim confided in his older brother, “It worked for you guys, but it never worked for me. For my Dad’s sake, I’ve tried and tried, but it’s no use. I’m opting for atheism.” And so it has been. A splendid husband and father; a loving, generous son and brother. But no God. What went wrong? And, more important than affixing blame, what is his final destiny? Unassuageable grief.
The haunting question: where did the parent fail? Or, seeking another cause, was it the college professor he so admired, the one who took exception to much of what the school stood for? One day I heard a famous radio preacher say, “All my children follow the Lord, and if you do what I tell you in the next ten minutes, so will yours.” Yeah. Right. Too bad he didn’t clue God in on the secret, I thought. God had two children with a perfect heredity and Paradise for an environment and they both blew it. Big time. So was God the ultimate parental failure? No, with my mind at least, I couldn’t buy into environmental determinism. Each person is responsible for his or her own choices, as the prophet reminds us again and again (Ezekiel 33). At the final Judgment no one will be able to plead, “Go after my parents. They’re to blame.” But doesn’t the Bible say what the preacher quoted, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”? Indeed it does, right there in the book of promises, right? No, it’s in the Book of Proverbs. Just like, “The man of diligence will stand before kings.” Yes, it often happens, that’s the way things normally work, but it’s no promise, no guarantee. I knew all that, but still the guilt.
I know I failed as a parent in many ways, and how I have grieved. But I’m forgiven, and in that I rest. No, my pain is not my guilt, but apprehension over the final outcome. Do I run for comfort to the promise, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand”? (John 10:28) or do I agonize over the assurance that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 4:6). I’ve given up on solving the theological mystery. God knows; and “shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
I’m responsible to my children, no longer for them. Once they’re grown, my responsibility is to love them and pray for them. Period. So how do I pray? I can’t ask God to force one of my children into the Kingdom – he’s clearly said he won’t do that. But I pray almost daily that the Holy Spirit will not give up on them. He does give up on people, we read. So I pray that he who was sent to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment to come will not give up yet but do his work. Or that the kindness of God will lead them to repentance. Just one more day.