The fascinating case of young David Vetter, makes for a vivid illustration. Vetter was born in 1971 with a condition ominiously called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. What that meant was that his little body had no natural ability to fight off any disease. The mildest form of any germ could result in his death. Doctors attempted to protect him by placing him in a sterile plastic environment. The media, with uncharacteristic discreetness, never revealed his name while he was alive, but dubbed him affectionately as “The Bubble Boy.”
In an attempt at curing the child, a bone marrow transplant was done from his sister through intravenous tubes running into the bubble. What pre-screening tests could not reveal was that the donor’s blood contained dormant traces of a virus. With no immune system, the virus rapidly spread and killed David Vetter at age twelve.
That sad story has a parallel in the spiritual world. Many parents treat the souls of their children as if they possessed an incurable immune deficiency. Anxious about infecting their young ones with worldly philosophy, they keep them in a sterile environment. Some parents never allow their children to play with other kids, or venture outside the home. All their education and entertainment comes directly from their parents. This certainly does preserve the children from worldly, unbiblical influences, and is highly appropriate in the very young years [emphasis added after some commenters missed my support of protecting little kids.] But at some point, if the child has any hope of surviving independently outside the home, he or she will need to have been educated about what is out there. In other words, temptation is not only conquered by avoidance, but also by pre-emptive education of how to identify the lure and consequences of the temptation, as in what the father does for his son in Prov 7.
Germs in the Bubble
There is a spiritual reality that makes the attempt to insulate our children from sin even more futile. On this end of the spectrum of overprotection, parents have the misconception that the problem with their children lies outside the protective bubble of isolation. But the Bible reveals to us that sin is far more insidious than any biological killer.
The deadly reality is that sin resides in your child’s heart, from birth. The germs are already inside the bubble.
Consider the implications of these sobering verses:
- Ps 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
- Ps 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
- Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
- Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
These truths warn us that at the time of our birth we already have a sin nature, inherited from Adam.
When parents come to grips with the fact that their children are sinners from the womb, it brings a perspective of dependence on God for the salvation and protection of their children. Instead of taking the whole burden on themselves, parents can enjoy the freedom of knowing that their children’s problem is not something the parent can fix, but a systemic sinfulness that can only be removed by the world of Jesus, the Savior.
Parent, you cannot break your child; they come broken. Likewise, exposing them to worldly vices will not make them sinful; they come that way already. I’m not saying kick your kid out of the protective bubble to fend for himself or herself. I’m saying, employ a strategy of slow, incremental education of how to deal with sin by relying on the Savior.
You cannot repair your child by yourself, but you can take him or her to the Savior for rescue. This is liberating in one sense, but it does not remove all responsibility from parents. This truth simply changes the responsibility of the parent, and realigns it with reality. You cannot save your child, but because Jesus can, your job is to constantly take your child to Jesus in prayer, through teaching, and by example.
Cure Found: Pure Blood
The tragedy of David Vetter is that the very blood being pumped into his body to save his life was infected with that which would take his life. In a spiritual parallel we need to recognize that the only way to replace the sin in us to get a pure substitute to exchange righteousness for unrighteousness.
The blood of Jesus is the only perfectly innocent blood in the Universe. He is the only person to live a perfect life; in Him is no sin whatsoever. So when Jesus gives us His righteousness, and takes our sin upon Him on the cross, our salvation is secure and undefiled (uninfected) and depends entirely on Him (1 Pet 1:4). When you apply that truth to parenting, it gives you confidence to stop raising bubble babies, and to let your kids off the bench and in the game so that they can learn how to participate in God’s story of redemption, instead of just spectating from the sidelines.