15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.
Imagine if you will a toddler in a room full of toys. There are toys of all kinds and more than one of each toy. The toddler is happy, playing contentedly in one corner of the room. Into this idyllic scene introduce another toddler. Which toy will the new toddler want? The room is full of toys, multiple copies of each toy. But which toy will the new toddler want? The one that our original toddler was playing with contentedly.
Parents are prone to ask their children, when some nasty behavior starts manifesting itself in the home, “Where did you learn that? Who taught you that?” And, of course, there are times when our sinful patterns of behavior are shaped by those with whom we associate. But the deepest answer to our parental question, “Who taught you that?” is “I learned that quite well from my father Adam.” Solomon tells us in our text today that one of the things we learn from the toddlers who are, mind you, part of the Kingdom of God is the universality of sin.
The great Bishop of Salisbury under Queen Elizabeth, a man by the name of John Jewel noted in one of his sermons:
Behold man's nature, and consider it even from our first birth. How full of affections, how wayward is the young child which lieth in the cradle! His body is but small, but he hath a great heart, and it is altogether inclined to evil. And the more he waxeth in reason by years, the more he groweth proud, froward, wilful, unruly, and disobedient. If this sparkle be suffered to increase, it will rage over, and burn down the whole house.
“Foolishness,” Solomon warns us, “is bound up in the heart of a child.” Only a fool like Rousseau, who abandoned his children to an orphanage rather than be inconvenienced with their sin, could imagine that humans are good by nature and only become evil by observing others’ example. As any parent who actually interacts with his children knows, the evil doesn’t come only from outside. The sin is bound up in our hearts at birth
And so Solomon reminds us that the course of action parents must pursue in order to rescue their children from their own foolishness is discipline. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” As parents we must be diligent to train and correct our children in the course of their life, so that, by God’s grace, they be rescued from the folly they inherited from Adam. The rod of correction will drive foolishness from him.
As any gardener knows, it is not difficult to grow weeds in the garden – they seem to appear quite spontaneously. We don’t need to do anything for them to grow and to grow abundantly. What is difficult is to grow vegetation. Likewise in a child. Children left on their own will be a shame to their father and their mother. As Bishop Jewel remarked, “If this sparkle be suffered to increase, it will rage over, and burn down the whole house.” Permissive parenting is not a biblical virtue. Solomon declares, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Pr 29:15). If you love your children then discipline them, help them to see the foolishness that is wrapped up in all of us by birth.
So toddlers – in reminding us of the universality of sin and the need for discipline – should point us to our Heavenly Father. If we understand that our children are born in sin and in need of discipline, then we must also perceive that as we grow older the sin doesn’t disappear, it just becomes more sophisticated. Consequently, we too stand in need of correction to drive foolishness from us. But who will discipline us? If we are God’s children, adopted into His family, He promises to discipline us for our good. He uses discipline – trials, persecutions, heartaches – to drive foolishness from our hearts and make us more like Jesus.
Reminded of these lessons taught to us by the toddlers in our midst, let us kneel and confess our sin to our Father.