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a greater calamity

Unbelieving Children are a Great Calamity to Their Parents

The word “calamity” is a strong word. Very strong. It is defined as:

Any great misfortune or cause of misery; in general, any event or disaster which produces extensive evils, as loss of crops, earthquakes, etc., but also applied to any misfortune which brings great distress upon a single person; misfortune; distress; adversity; an event resulting in great loss.


“Great loss” is precisely the point. However erudite, however healthy, wealthy, or happy our children might be in this life, believing parents can never be truly happy until the question of eternity is settled. Earthly loss lasts only for a time; the lack of salvation makes that loss, that separation, final. How can believing parents help but grieve at that?

Here in the third part of our series on Parents’ Groans Over Their Ungodly Children, Lawrence recounts seven ways unbelieving children affect their parents. To him, and to myself as well, the misery of parenting unsaved children exceeds every other grief. This is not to discount other forms of suffering; rather, Lawrence shows that the usual springs of comfort are often unavailable or sometimes tainted for parents of unbelievers. It is unique. He presents the greatness of this affliction by these particulars:

  • The enormity of believing parents’ grief
  • The extreme emotions they experience
  • Comparisons to other forms of suffering and how this exceeds them all
  • By showing how the shadow of this misery taints even the workplace
  • By showing how all other comforts become embittered by grief
  • By showing how other—and sometimes severe—trials often accompany the prodigal
  • By showing the several aggravations of it
  • By instancing the ways in which it can be made even more grievous

The Enormity of Grief

Scripture describes Lot as “oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men”. It says that he, “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds”. (2 Peter 2:7–8)

This is what it means to parent the prodigal. It is to know oneself as a filthy beggar justified and forgiven by the mercy of Christ. It is to recognize how close we’ve come to the flames of hell and to know that we’ve been snatched from what we, by rights, deserve. Parenting the prodigal means standing in the midst of amazing grace, aware that our children march resolutely to hell.

Drawing from personal experience, Lawrence outlined seven reasons for believing parents’ grief over their lost children. Listen to his heart as he explains why he called unbelieving children a great calamity to their parents.

Unbelieving Children a Great Calamity to Their Parents


Sin is the mortal enemy of every believer. All of life is a struggle against it, and the closer we grow toward Christ, the more sharply we are pained by it, grieved by it. To witness our children basking in the degradations of sin is… well, Lawrence tells it best, “none can tell but those that feel it”.

It is a grievous thing to a man that loves God, godliness, and souls, to see a drunkard staggering in the streets or to hear any man blaspheming and reproaching his Maker and Redeemer. But none can tell but those that feel it, what a sad spectacle it is to sober and godly parents to see their own children drunk. How it torments them to hear their own children lying and blaspheming God and His saints.

Indeed Children of the Devil

That their children are the children of the devil, under the power of Satan, ridden by him and carried captive by him at his will. It was a lamentable case of that good mother who came to Christ, saying, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” (Matthew 15:22). Yet this was not her daughter’s sin, but only her great affliction.

But how doleful is it to these parents, who have renounced the devil themselves and live in continual warfare with him, to see the hearts, mouths, and lives of the children whom they have devoted to God, filled with and possessed with the devil, whose children they are and whose lusts they will do. If the devil tempts the parents, their own graces will resist and overcome his temptations. But they cannot secure their children from being overcome and from falling into condemnation of the devil. With sad hearts do they see the lion of hell running away with the lambs of their flock and cannot recover them.

Oh my goodness yes—that last part, to “see the lion of hell running away with the lambs of their flock and cannot recover them” … this is misery indeed.

Faith in the Wrath of God

The book of Matthew recounts the story of a father whose son was called “moonstruck” (Greek seleniazoof). The boy was possessed of a demon that would sometimes throw him into the fire. Other times he was cast into water. The father, fearing his son would ultimately die, brought him to Christ (see Matthew 17:15-18). Using this account as a touchstone, Lawrence compares the plight of the parents of unbelievers:

But much more terrible is it to these parents who know the terrors of the Lord to know that their children have cut off the entail of the Covenant of Grace and are every moment ready to fall into the hands of the living God! When such parents are, with faith, reading the curses of God’s law, how doth it cut them to the heart to think they are reading their children’s doom.

His point here is so important; if you miss this, you miss everything. It is the very faith of believing parents that sets them at odds with their children. Faith is the basis of all their pain. It’s such an ironic distinction: the very Redeemer who rescued me is the One who stands in judgment of my children. The same Scripture that comforts, instructs, and guides me, pronounces judgment upon my kids.

Ungodly Characters

That their children are under those black characters, which are given in Scripture to ungodly men. This then is the misery of these parents: that while they look on persons through the glass of the Scriptures and see many to be the jewels, treasure, children, heirs of God, and the glorious bride and spouse of Christ, they must and do judge their own wicked children to be a generation of vipers, serpents, swine, lions, bears, and wolves, as God calls them in His word.

The Anger and Displeasure of God

This next one—this is a most troubling part.

That the anger and displeasure of God appears so much against these good parents herein… But this is very grievous that God should correct them with a scourge made of their own bowels and should chasten a blessed father with a cursed child.

Lawrence makes another point here, though I’m unsure if I completely agree. The language is hard and maybe I’m too cowardly to face it. I don’t know. It pains me to read it:

God’s holy anger must be acknowledged herein, for when the child despiseth his father, God Himself doth justly spit in the father’s face.

Shame and Disgrace

This one is both treacherous and true. It’s a painful bit of irony that causes parents of prodigals to turn away from the help they desperately need. Lawrence describes it here:

He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame” (Pro 19:26). Everyone will be ready to reflect upon their parents and to say, “Surely these children were never taught to serve God, who do so sacrifice themselves to the service of the devil.

This has absolutely been our experience. Parents of young children anxiously ask what went wrong while parents of older, straighter, and more narrow children advise how it should have been prevented. Very few ever mourned with us. Church has become a painful place. Sometimes it’s a torment.

Shared Misery, Shared Anger

For us, for my husband and myself, this has been one of the most difficult aspects of parenting prodigals. Where we would usually look for comfort in each other, we’re now afraid to add to the other’s burdens. Where we normally seek to protect one another, we’re now helpless before our shared grief. Lawrence is spot on in his assessment here.

Both parents are deeply affected for the trouble and misery that comes hereby to one another. Their love to and sympathy with one another makes the burden of both more uneasy. The good father is not only troubled with a wicked child but also for the bitterness and sorrow of his wife. And the good mother is not only troubled with the wicked child but also for the grief of her husband. The mother’s heart bleeds to see the tears and to hear the groans of the afflicted father and cries out, ‘Oh, what a child have I brought forth that so much deprives me of the comfort of a loving husband and is like to break his heart, and to make me a desolate and disconsolate widow.’ The father mourns to see the tears and the sad countenance and to hear the groans of the distressed mother and is ready to cry out, ‘Woe is me, that the child of my bowels is destroying the wife of my bosom.’ Yet these hardhearted children are not affected herewith! Let the parents sigh, they will sing. Let the parents weep and mourn, they will rant and roar. They will care no more to break their parents’ hearts than to break a tobacco pipe. They will not abate a lie, or cup, to save the lives of their tender parents.

Extreme Emotions

Moving on to the peculiar temptations peculiar to parents of prodigals, the author lists three. Here again, he is spot on.


Fear is a troublesome passion, and godly parents are never out of fear of their wicked children.
Of these fears, Lawrence lists three:

  1. Fear lest their children are in great sin
  2. Fear lest the judgment of God befall them in this life (Proverbs 27:8)
  3. Fear of their eternal damnation

Lawrence says that scarcely have the children left the house, but parents begin to fear. “They are afraid that everyone who knocks at the door, every post, and every friend that comes to visit them brings them some sad tidings of their disobedient children.”

Thus every knock at the door, buzz of the phone, is a new temptation to fear, a new enticement to turn our eyes from our Savior. Job spoke to this in Job 1:5. Knowing how the unregenerate human heart loves sin, and knowing the world, the flesh and the devil are bound to set every opportunity before them, the parents of prodigals live in continual dread. I’ll add that social media adds another layer of complexity to this issue.


Tim Keller defined anger as “the result of love. It is energy for defense of something you love when it is threatened”. See more of this outstanding sermon here. Sometimes what we love is sinful, so to protect it is sinful by default. But when the object of love is good, the motion to protect it is righteous.

This explains why parents of prodigals are often angry. To be sure, there is often a tremendous amount of sin bound up in that anger—loss of reputation, of dreams and hopes, etc—but there is also a lot of righteous anger there as well. Lawrence speaks of it like this:

Anger is another passion that is moved in godly parents with the wickedness of their children. This is troublesome, for a man is never out of trouble whilst he is in anger. The more the wills of these parents are bent to have their children godly, the more they are displeased and provoked to anger by their sins… They cannot but think of them with anger, speak of them with anger, and look at them with anger; and thus their children which should be their delight and pleasure, are a continual cross and vexation to them.


They are deeply affected with grief and sorrow for the wickedness of their children. The parents’ graces cause them to mourn for their children’s sins. Their saving knowledge makes their hearts bleed to see their children scorn and despise that glory that they see in God and Christ. And whilst they by faith are feeding on Christ, it grieves them to see their children feeding themselves with the dirty pleasures of sin. Their love to God makes them groan that their children love sin, the worst evil, and hate God, the chiefest good.

This is probably the most constant companion of parents of prodigals. It is the floor plan that sets each of the other emotions in place. Sorrow. And how could it possibly be any other way?

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