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Ours is the generation of parents who hover over our children to help insulate them from failure and insure their “success” in life.

But, as the previous generation’s parents will tell us, good parenting isn’t about plugging in the right coordinates to insure children arrive at the right spot, or protecting them from failure and pain that come with growth, or arranging their environment so that it all works out for them.

Good parenting is preparing children to figure things out for themselves as they go along in life, i.e., hovering early on but then looking for ways to stop hovering.

The more I look at the Bible as a whole, the more I see that God is not a helicopter parent. Now, you can focus in on some portions of the Bible in isolation–say the exodus period–and it sure looks like God is hovering and micromanaging Israel’s every move to make sure they “turn out O.K.” Don’t worship idols, sacrifice this and that at certain days and times, be sure to eat foods only from column A, not from column B, etc.

But when I look at the Bible as a whole–not individual stages on the journey–I see a very different picture. The Bible gives diverse information on even some of the most basic questions of faith. This diverse information really can’t be–and I feel shouldn’t be–harmonized to yield “one lesson” or any such thing. Rather, I feel the presence of this diversity yields a different conclusion.

Take God, for instance. If you look to the Bible to find out what God is like, you won’t find a handy information packet. You see varying portraits of God. Depending on where you read, God either knows everything or and he’s surprised and reacts accordingly; he’s either set in his ways as a sovereign ruler or he changes his mind when pressed; he gives one law in one place and later adjusts it or lays down another law someplace else; sometimes he’s overflowing with compassion and at others times he is quick to pull the trigger.

I think the reason the Bible exhibits such diversity of information concerning God’s behaviors (just one example) is that the Bible reflects different moments in Israel’s spiritual journey. Israel’s understanding of God grows, shifts, changes, etc., over time, thus reflecting “where they are” at the moment. The Bible records a journey.

A great place to see in a nutshell how the Bible isn’t set up to micromanage our process of growth is Proverbs, Israel’s book of wisdom. Proverbs 26:4 and 5 summarize the entire issue, as I see it;

  • Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
  • Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

OK, so which is it? Which one do I do now? The first or the second? It depends on the situation you are in, and guess what: you get to figure out which situation fits which of these opposing proverbs. God doesn’t hand it to you. He doesn’t micromanage. We aren’t on a leash to keep us from making mistakes.

Wisdom, which is the goal of the maturation process, can’t be scripted with insured success. It’s about learning how to negotiate life’s moments when they come up. Personally, I think that is a great way of summarizing the process of parenting and of spiritual growth.

A Bible that exhibits such diversity does not do well as a guide to insure its readers follow the script to insure success. I think the Bible functions very differently, on what I feel is a deeper and more profound level. If I may rephrase all of this: the Bible’s theological diversity (which is unmistakable) alerts me that treating it as a hovering index of “what to do” sells the Bible short.

If we reflect on it for a moment, common experience demonstrates that the answers to what confronts our day-to-day lives is most often not found in verses in the Bible. Rather, the Bible models for us a spiritual journey of failure, success, adaptation, growth, change–which is far more immediately relevant for God’s people, then and now.

I think God wants to teach his children how to become wise rather than knowing which page to flip to to find a one-size-fits-all answer.



Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.


  • Lise says:

    Amen! Hallelujah! This is a great post and the analogy is brilliant.

  • Bev Mitchell says:

    Another great post Pete. So simple yet so hard when we want certainty. Sort of like the very bright student who seems to effortlessly capture all of the facts and is prepared to reproduce them with great accuracy. But, when it comes to shaking and stirring these facts around to come up with new questions and solutions using the facts, something seems to hinder the process. Access to facts and their good application are separated by a gap that only wisdom can bridge.

  • otming says:

    I have learned more theology (what God is like) from parenting a young adult than from anything I ever heard in church or Christian college and, no, it hasn’t always been easy or pretty. You must allow and accept another’s freedom without any kind of certainty about how it will turn out, without reproach when it goes badly, without credit when it goes well, hoping and praying furiously with no guarantees except the prodigal safety net ( you’ve tried to spread, which, of course, doesn’t prevent the fall, only–maybe–softens it.

    That is what God is like. He is winging it from moment to moment in utterly appropriate (I’m not so successful) response to the diverse situations in which his varied children put themselves.

  • Ryan Hite says:

    I think that many people see him as a helicopter parent, but the fact is that he is not. God can help you get through the really tough stuff but most of it I feel is a result of learning for ourselves. There is a guide for us, but it is not to the effect of holding your hand. I feel that many people are dependent on that idea.

  • Charles Twombly says:

    Right, Peter. No helicopter parent for sure. But my new book will argue that Ezekiel’s vision of spinning things in the sky was actually helicopters. I don’t know the various varieties, so it’s hard for me to be more specific. There’s a tiny possibility that there might be helicopter angels, a thought that gives a contemporary twist to “guardian angel.” Kind of “pedagogoi” to keep us in line so we won’t miss the spiritual equivalent of soccer practice and ballet lessons and deadlines for early admission at Yale.

  • candeux says:

    Great insights as usual, with multiple, profound levels of meaning.

    I agree that we see God interacting with his people in different ways and I would venture to suggest that we can see a a fairly linear pattern through scripture as Israel “grows up”. The Law was given when Israel was young and needed strict rules, violent punishment, and strong protection in order to survive. We see in the prophets some hints that God is expecting Israel to take the law to heart more, instead of just blindly following the letter. And, of course, in Jesus we see this process completed as he shows by example and gives the ability (through the Holy Spirit) to apply what we’ve learned.

    This is not to say that we can ignore God or his Word. I still ask my father for advice and I’m nearly fifty, but I also know instinctively, both from his training and from experience, what his answer would be without having to ask.

    BTW, the Prov. 26 passage is one of my favorites in all of Scripture!

  • residentoftartarus says:

    Notice how this entire post serves as a defeater to the idea that most everything was either written down and/or invented early in the post-exilic period.

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