Part 1 of this 4-part series provided the key orientation point: provoking a child to anger is a covenantal concept. It does not mean, “don’t do anything that will make your child get mad/angry/exasperated.” Wise and godly parenting will often result in children getting angry. Drawing from usage of the phrase “provoke to anger” in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), we see the main context of usage is a right response of anger when justly held expectations in a relationship are violated.
Putting that into terms of “provoking a child to anger,” we can say that parents provoke a child to anger when they act towards their children in ways that violate the justly held relational expectations that children have of parents.
This is a good place to start, even if it’s really broad. It points us on a clear direction of inquiry. As parents, we need to give thought to what children can justly expect to receive from us in the parent/child relationship. Some of these expectations are clear. Children justly expect their parents to protect them (especially before they are grown up), and parents who use their greater power to hurt rather than guard their children are “provoking them to anger.” Children justly expect their parents to love them and parents who do not do so are “provoking them to anger.”
When we situate “provoke to anger” within its covenantal context from the Old Testament, one result within parent/child relationships is it appears to cover a range of negative responses from children, not just anger. A child physically abused by their parents may respond in anger or may respond in sullenness and fear. A neglected child may have angry outbursts or may withdraw from the world. In either case, the response is driven by parents violating the justly held relational expectations of the child and would seem to fit under the idea of “do provoke your child to anger.” Compare to the parallel passage in Colossians 3.21.
Just to be clear, when I am talking about what children justly expect from their parents, I am not talking about things they even know how to articulate. That will be age dependent. Rather, I am talking about things understood from Scripture and nature about the needs of a human being in the journey towards adulthood. A two-year old won’t know how to express in words that their parents are not emotionally engaging with them. But they clearly understand something they need is being withheld by their parents.
Moving forward: two categories of justly held expectations
Like most of the biblical passages in Scripture, guidance for parenting aims mainly at the goals rather than the details. As a generalization, much of the biblical material answers the question who we should be rather than the question, “What should the detailed decisions of our lives involve?” We still can step back, though, and distill some guidance on what children can expect from their parents within a sort of “covenantal” context of parent-child relationships.
In the next two posts, I want to take up these concerns from two different directions: (1) psychology and human development and (2) biblical teaching.
In part 3, I want to take up some key categories borrowed in from the world of psychology and human development. Of course, one could take the time to try to argue that all these categories are supportable from somewhere in Scripture, and they probably are, but I’m not going to do that. They are sufficiently broad and deep enough concepts to engage with some of the core experiences of growing to maturity as a human being. They are rooted in how our physiology and neurobiology function. In other words, they simply address some of the basic needs people have in order to grow up into normal, functioning adults.
In part 4 of this series, I will turn to some more specific biblical themes. After all, raising healthy, successful children is wonderful, but it is a far cry short of the biblical mandate. God’s intentions for parents include other key ideas and children have an inherent right to receive them from their parents.
Answering the core questions
The end goal of these two posts is to answer some of the question, “What sorts of things should parents be providing for their children?” In answering this question, we are also at the same time giving ourselves a framework for processing our children’s anger. Are they angry because of a failure to give them something they rightly expect, or are they angry because of sin in their own heart (which calls us to help them understand how to deal with sin in their own heart)?
As one writer puts it:
“Beginning with the first day of life outside the womb, every child is asking two core questions: “Am I loved?” and “Can I get my own way?” These two questions mark us throughout life, and the answers we receive set the course for how we live.”Dan Allender, How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family, 21
In answering these questions day by day for our children, they will undoubtedly get mad at us. Our concern is to tune in to the way God created human beings to function and the directions he gives us as parents so that we can get a better idea of when the anger of our child is their own sin and when the anger of our child is provoked by our sin towards them.