Over the years, I’ve talked to many parents who experience guilt over the struggles of their grown kids. The following are some thoughts I’ve shared from time to time, including with friends who have grown children who aren’t following Christ and making wise decisions.
On this issue, I find great insight and comfort in Isaiah 5:1-7. Here’s the full text:
1 Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.
3 Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?
5 Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.
7 The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.
Consider that God is the one with the vineyard, which consists of His “children,” the people of Israel, some of whom are true God-followers, some of whom are not. Even among those who love Him there’s a wide variety when it comes to their wisdom in life choices.
If parents are always to be blamed for how their children turn out, then God would have to be blamed for how we all turn out—but according to Scripture, God is blameless (Psalm 18:30).
Isaiah 5 says God planted His vineyard, His children, “on a rich and fertile hill.” He acted intentionally, with forethought (even though, unlike us, He knew the ultimate outcome). We’re told “He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines.” Parents invest vast amounts of time and effort in their children. God understands that.
And then, in light of all His efforts and best intentions, God expects a harvest: “Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter.” It’s hard to conceive of an all-powerful and all-knowing God being disappointed, but this is the language of disappointment.
This passage touches me like Hebrews 4:15-16, in terms of saying to my heart, “God understands. He gets it. He knows what I’m going through—in fact, He’s actually gone through it.” Listen to Scripture;
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tested in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Back to Isaiah 5, God then asks His people to judge for themselves: “What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done?” Now we always know we could have done more for our children, and we could have done it better, and of course that’s always true. But surely we should find comfort in the fact that God, who can do no wrong, says He did enough for His children that as their Father He had the right to expect a better outcome in terms of their character, wisdom, and heart.
God asks, even knowing the answer that we ourselves seldom understand, “When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?”
The final three verses show God bringing judgment, and that may seem hard to us. We’re not God, the Creator of our children, and we are not their judges, and lack the wisdom and power to do as God does. Yet we too could take to heart at the very least the consideration that loving them may involve no longer being their enablers in what is hurting them and their children (our grandchildren). (Desiring God has a helpful article on “12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child.”)
Certainly we can take comfort in the fact that as long as our children are still alive, God is not done with them. The dark paths that are the result of their unwise and rebellious choices can ultimately be used by God to disillusion them with the world and themselves, and one day draw them back to Him. We can’t be certain what they’ll choose or what God will do, and often we don’t understand why He doesn’t just “make them” follow Him (that’s the supposed dilemma between God’s sovereignty and meaningful human choice, which are two co-existing realities). But meanwhile, there is great consolation in knowing God loves our children even more than we do. (I should add that even if they have tragically died, we don’t know what our God of sovereign grace might have done in their hearts just before they left this world.)