Last week, we talked about cohabitation, and, in particular, we talked about it in the context of its effects on children. We need to be clear that the Bible is not a book about raising children. Even the most famous verse about the subject (Proverbs 22:6) is likely mistranslated. Other famous texts (cf. Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1-3) about children are addressed to the (adult?) children themselves.
Nevertheless, there is something that Scripture does want us to understand. God cares about children. The extent of that care can be seen in Jesus’ words (Matthew 18:1-11) and in his actions (Matthew 19:13-14). Children were welcome in his ministry, which is not surprising, since their heavenly representatives were welcome before God’s throne.
Why Does God Care About Children?
But why does God care about children? It is not because they are inherently good. The writers of the bible did not share the common, Western assumption that children were innocent. It is not because children hold the future in their hands. This common assumption, too, is contradicted by the testimony of Scripture. God alone has the power and the responsibility to manage the future.
Rather, the origins of God’s care for children can be found within His own nature. God has a special concern for those who cannot care for themselves. In many respects, children depend on adults to provide for them, and they cannot protect themselves from the evil influences in their world.
God’s concern for children also seems also seems to derive from their usefulness as a model for God’s Kingdom. Children had no status in the ancient world (notice Paul’s argument in Galatians 4:1-2). They could make no claims of superiority in relation to others (at least in relation to other adults). As such, their plight closely resembled the vision that Jesus had for God’s Kingdom. Those who belong to Christ share the same humble status and submit to only one master (Matthew 23:8-12).
What Are Our Responsibilities to the Children in Our Lives?
If this is Christ’s vision for God’s Kingdom, and if it is intimately related to God’s character and God’s concern for children, what then is our responsibility? What should be our focus as parents, and what should be our focus as churches?
It seems to me that our responsibilities to the children we encounter can be grouped into three categories.
- Provide what they need to thrive. This is perhaps the most obvious responsibility. We owe it, both to our own children and to the children that God places within our sphere of influence, to see that they have what they need. Obviously, this includes basic things like food and shelter, but I think that we can extend Jesus’ words to include other things, things that promote intellectual, emotional, and spiritual health.
- Protect them from the influence of evil. There is a particularly dire warning associated with this obligation, and we need to take it seriously. Obviously, we need to ensure that children are shielded from negative institutions and practices (like pornography or gang violence, for example). But we also need to protect children from the kind of abuse and victimization that inculcates dysfunctionality in their character. And, we need to protect them from our own sinfulness.
- Initiate them into the Kingdom. The children in our families and our churches are constantly being bombarded with messages claiming to tell them what life is really about. Most of these messages are antithetical to the message of the gospel. We cannot simply tell our children about the Kingdom of God; we most model its values in every aspect of our lives.
How Do We Fulfill Our Responsibilities?
So, how do we do these things? Frankly, it is beyond the scope of my expertise to say too much on this point. I would say, as I have said in a previous blog post, that we need to be creating surrogate families for the children in our community who do not have healthy, God-honoring families. We aren’t just responsible for our biological children; we are responsible for every child that God brings into our lives. So we need to create family structures that can step in when biological families fail.
But beyond this, I need your help. I need you to share your ideas about how we go about providing the things that children need, protecting them from evil influences, and inculcating in them Kingdom values. Share your ideas in the “Comments” section below.