When God Lies

I'm a guy who likes to shop. This tends to nauseate most men, but I view shopping as a challenge and a game. Much to my wife's displeasure you'll often find me sitting down in the middle of an isle comparing the price per ounce or price per 100. Saving money isn't just wise, it's fun! Unless, of course, you don't read the fine print carefully.

The best is when you stumble onto that "buy one, get one free" deal only to realize at checkout that the items you had chosen didn't quite meet the requirements of the sale. In the moment though, this is rarely the conclusion we come to. It's more common to hear people railing against the cashier for misleading them. In the moment, we're more prone to say, "You lied to me!"

I can't tell you how many parents I've heard say this to God. And you already know what passage I'm referring to: "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he won't depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). No reasonable parent that I know would say that they did everything perfectly in raising their kids. However, there are plenty that did their best. And the kids still grew up to be numbskulls.

Not being a parent, I can't speak to how devastating this must be, watching your kids continue to make bad decisions into their 30s, 40s, etc. But I will speak to the fact that most parents take upon themselves unnecessary guilt from Proverbs. While they may express exasperation at God for "lying" to them; ultimately, they blame themselves for not raising their kids as correctly as the proverb implies.

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But kids aren't something you get at the grocery store hoping to get a good deal on. There is no fine print that will help you make the perfect behavioral purchase. You could be the best parent the world has ever seen, and still end up with a child that spends more time in jail than class. So what then is the point of that verse?

It's a shame how much of a disservice many Bible churches in America have done to parents. They fear some liberal, 'have it your way' agenda to the point that they tell their congregations: "Always interpret Scripture literally" (as if this will alleviate people manipulating the Bible). And to seminary students that makes sense. But to lay people, literally means literally. And that's like saying that where two or three are gathered, God is always in their midst--an interpretation clearly ignorant of the five verses that precede Matthew 18:20.

There's a lot more to the idea of context than people realize. One of the easiest to miss is literary genre. It's an oft forgotten fact that the Bible is technically literature. Some will preach it as if every single word applies to us the same way, but those who have studied it in-depth recognize that a letter to a friend is very different from poetry or narrative. In the case of Proverbs, we're dealing with wisdom literature which has a noteworthy distinction: the words are the words of man, not God.

Think about it, apart from a couple chapters at the end of Job, God does not directly speak in any of those books (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). These are the thoughts from great men of faith. And as such, they're written to convey principles, not promises. This doesn't make them any less inspired or valuable, but it does suggest that God can reveal himself in ways apart from direct revelation (i.e. creation).

He can make great, direct promises like 1 John 1:9 ("If we confess our sins...") that we can take to the bank. And he can give us principles from observing the lowly ant (Proverbs 6). But we must never mistake biblical principles for promises. Because unlike the grocery store, God doesn't offer refunds.