Children are a blessing. They are a gift from God and a cause for joy and thankfulness. And as with all gifts they bring responsibility. In the case of children, it’s to welcome them, to care for them, and to raise them.
In the first instance, they are a gift to, and responsibility for, parents. The preferred place for children to be welcomed and raised is in a godly marriage and in turn a purpose of marriage is to welcome children. But they are also a gift to the world. In Genesis, it is humanity (and not only parents) who blessed with the call to ‘fill the earth’ (1:26). This dynamic is seamlessly illustrated in Exodus 1 where God blesses the midwives, and the nation, with children. The midwives protect newborns from Pharaoh’s attempt to kill them, so God
“was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own (Ex 1:20-21)
Meanwhile, as quickly as we declare children to be a blessing we should also admit that they don’t always feel that way. Even when circumstances are ideal children are complicated. For example, when there is a godly marriage, competent parents, healthy children, a supportive extended family and church as well as community and social conditions conducive to children. When the circumstances are not ideal they can feel positively threatening.
This observation is acknowledged by Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 7 as Paul contemplates singleness he wishes people could be “free from worldly concerns” – something which must include children. Further Scripture acknowledges some contexts (like war) where ‘it would be better if one had not been born”. The point is not that Scripture is putting forward an argument to eliminate children, but rather its recognition of just how unsuitable some contexts are for raising children.
Despite this Scripture is unambiguously welcoming of children. An ‘unwanted’ child is an unthinkable thought for the people of God.
It is easy to underestimate how important it is to God that children are welcomed, and that they in turn honour their parents – which as Paul points out is the first command with a promise (Eph 6:2). So important is it, that the end of Malachi, referenced in Luke foretells of John the Baptist who will ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.
It is almost as though, if you cannot welcome children, you will not be able to welcome Jesus.
This biological welcoming found in the Old Testament is expanded (not supplanted) to include our church family. We no longer only welcome our creation children and parents, but now also our new creation “sons and daughters” and “mothers and fathers”. If you like, the diagnosis of how welcoming to children we are won’t be just how we welcome our own children, but how we treat other people’s children.
At this point it is worth pausing and recognizing how alien this way of thinking is for most of us. We have bought into the wider culture’s separation of marriage and children, and we’ll tend to think of children as a choice rather than a gift – a good choice perhaps, but a choice nonetheless. This one shift in our thinking has several significant consequences:
- If we’re married we might expect we’ll be able to fit our children in and around our lives, and be disappointed when they don’t.
- We may struggle to properly articulate and understand the pain and grief a childless couple experience. After all they’ve just missed out on a choice (like an overseas trip) rather than an intrinsic purpose of marriage. Similarly, when someone is single, we’ll readily admit living without sex and companionship is difficult, but may not give a thought to the difficulty of living without children.
- We’ll be tempted to see raising children as just the parents’ responsibility, and be reluctant to help, after all they decided to have them so it’s their responsibility.
- And if we’re parents in the most intense years, we may feel guilty receiving help, and be blind to opportunities to care for anyone other than our children
- And when we see a couple welcoming children young, we’ll be tempted to feel scorn and bemusement (why would you have children so young?) and the same if they have ‘too many’ (don’t they know how birth control works?)
But it’s not just how we welcome children within the people of God, it also affects how we welcome them in the wider world. While few Christians think it’s a good idea to eliminate children before they are born, the surprising secret is how much of the thinking that leads to that point many of us do agree with. We agree they are a choice, we agree they are inconvenient, we agree they can be a threat – just not one you can get rid of. We agree with the river, but don’t like the waterfall it leads to. It leads us to focus only on strategies to making it illegal to eliminate unwanted children, rather than on helping create conditions where unwanted children are unthinkable.
It should be enough that God calls us to welcome children for us to do so. And if that isn’t enough, then the fact that or that one of the few times Jesus gets angry is when people try to turn children away, or that Jesus himself was a welcomed child, or that our lives started out as children, or even the experience of being with children on their better days. But somehow in our culture it isn’t.
We’ll show impatience towards children, especially other people’s, while blinded to the degree to which every moment of our lives depends on them. If we are married, we have benefitted from someone else’s child; if we have a friend, they are someone else’s child; if we have a job, it was probably given to us by someone else’s child; much of what we learn, most of what we use, are all the products of other people’s children. In our last moments in life, when we typically imagine it filled with our children, it will be other people’s children in the background making it possible. They will make the phone call to call people in, they will be the nurses and doctors quietly working to give you a few more moments with those you love the most.
To put it again, children are a blessing, they are a gift from God we cannot live without, and so we should in turn take up the responsibility to welcome them, care for them and raise them.