“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.”

This quip is attributed to 17th-century author John Wilmot, but most any parent could echo it. Parenting is complex. But what if you could distill the Bible’s teaching about parenting into one sentence? Here’s my attempt:

As parents, we want to help our children live in sync with reality.

For my wife and me, this concept has become a guiding principle, a lighthouse in the fog. Yet as any parent can testify, the sentence itself may be simple, but the task is certainly not.

Demands of Parenting

First, there’s the challenge of children. Every child is made in God’s image, unique and multi-faceted. That means parenting is never a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Then the complexity grows as each additional child enters the family. Not only are there more people, but the relationships between each of these people multiply, and each connection also requires attention. No wonder parenting is one of the most demanding pursuits on the planet.

There’s also a tangle of topics to unravel. How do I talk to my children about all the intricate issues we face today? Parents are supposed to be functional experts on everything from smartphones and social media to same-sex attraction and transgenderism.

Complicating matters further is the glut of available information on parenting, family, and children. There’s the free advice given by well-meaning family and friends. You may also have a shelf full of books on parenting. Then there are countless websites, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts funneling a torrent of parenting life-hacks straight to your phone. This abundance can quickly become overload.

Clarity for Parenting

Despite parenting’s undeniable difficulties, God’s Word guides us through the thicket of complexity. Surprisingly, there are less than a dozen passages in Scripture directly addressing how a parent should rear a child. One is Deuteronomy 6:20–25:

When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.”

Did you notice anything unexpected in the parent’s reply to the son’s question? The child asks about the meaning of God’s many commands. In response, the parent recounts a story. If one of my kids were to ask me why he couldn’t do something in our house, I might give several kinds of in-depth answers. I might provide pros and cons of a particular course of action, or explain how it’s unloving or unbiblical, or just drop back and punt: “Because I said so.”

As parents, we want to help our children live in sync with the realities of a good yet broken world that Christ is redeeming.

Yet in this passage God reminds us that what lights our daily path is a story, the Story—where God rescues a people for himself. And this is nothing less than the “true story of the whole world.” The parental wisdom of Deuteronomy 6:20–25 means that explanation is helpful, but not enough. Clarity in decision-making, and clarity in parenting, rises from clarity about what is actually real about the story of life in God’s world.

As parents, we want to help our children live in sync with the realities of a good yet broken world that Christ is redeeming.

Three Lenses

To get an accurate picture of life in this world, we must view everything through three lenses. The first lens provides the view that God made everything originally very good (Gen. 1:31). The next lens reveals that this good world is now also bad, broken and tainted by sin (Gen. 3). The third clarifies Jesus came to make new everything broken by sin (Rom. 8).

‘Good. Bad. New.’ Looking through these lenses brings clarity to complexity.

If you want to see God’s reality about anything, you must look at it using all three lenses at the same time. For example, food is part of God’s good design for mankind to enjoy, but there’s more to the story. If the blessing of food is abused, it’s also harmful (bad). Yet Jesus came to redeem even food, putting it in its proper place—not worshiped but enjoyed. One day all difficulties of health and diet will be removed forever, replaced with joyous feasting and the worship of God supremely (new) (Rev. 19:9). If you leave out any of these lenses, you will neglect some aspect of reality that God intends for us and our children to embrace.

Good. Bad. New.

Or take your child’s view of you as parent. Kids need to remember that even on your worst day as mom or dad, you’re still a source of God’s goodness for their lives (good). Neglect this lens and kids could grow cynical. But keeping it real, your children also need to remember no parent is perfect (bad). This lens helps keep bitterness and disillusionment at bay. And ultimately, Jesus has placed them in his family (new). For your children this means both a whole new level of security and love, as well as a new order of priorities. Together, these three lenses help a child see his or her parents with biblical clarity.

Good. Bad. New.

As parents, the arc of this gospel storyline is so helpful. It guides our interpretation of Scripture. But these three lenses won’t only enlighten your understanding God’s Word; they’ll also illuminate your navigation of God’s world. They’ll help you, as well as your children, learn to live in sync with reality.

Looking through these lenses brings clarity to complexity. These three truths may not straighten the twists and turns we all encounter on the path of parenting, but they will provide a north star to guide our steps along the way.

Editors’ note: 

Learn more from Champ Thornton in his new book, Radically Different: A Student’s Guide to Community (New Growth Press, 2019).