Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV).
Many of us are still recovering from the Sandy Hook shooting this past Friday. We’re still in shock; we’re still in mourning. It is right that we find ourselves here. Terrible tragedy calls first for sadness, not solutions.
In my own processing of this evil event, I have thought a good deal about what this calamity shows about how Americans continue to think about children. We grieve the little ones who are dead. We do not think of them as expendable, as inexpensive, as possessing less dignity than anyone else. We want to protect them. Our worst nightmare as a society is for someone to menace and kill our kids. Of course, we are also aware that yet again, we are looking at the portrait of a young man as killer. A killer without a father in the house. This is not the reason for his evil; Adam’s depravity, our sin, is (Rom 1, 3). But it is impossible to miss the fact that Adam Lanza had no father in his house and was terribly confused. Life is hard enough for young men; to not have a father in the home to steer and guide is potentially catastrophic.
We as a people care for children because, whether we are aware of it or not, there is in all of us God-given knowledge that little ones are precious. They deserve not less care but more because they are helpless. They are not an inconvenience to us; they are a gift. They demand a great deal of attention, yes; children are costly. They are supposed to be. They are a blessing that teaches us that life is not about us. It is about others. It will be most full, most satisfying, most happy when we sacrifice our own comforts in order to love little ones.
This is exactly what Jesus displayed in the verses quoted above. His disciples thought that the little children would distract Jesus and needlessly occupy his attention with insignificant things. There was kingdom work to do, right? I don’t know if you see this, but this is the exact temptation that we face. Our sin naturally inclines us to see kids not as a blessing but as a distraction, not a joy but a drain. How wrong we are, and how rebuked by Jesus’ example. He interrupts his high-level ministerial work to pronounce them worthy of his time. Not only this, but he describes them as ideal subjects of his realm of glory. This is so like Jesus. In one sentence, he gives us a whole theology of children, one that surprises us and dramatically refigures our thinking.
This mindset has influenced traditional American mores. But as many know, our country has shifted in the last four decades. We as a nation have declared war on our children. We are like that wicked king Herod, who because of the blindness of evil set out to kill the Messiah. He failed in this regard. Jesus, we see, was a survivor of a massacre (Matthew 2:16-18). There are millions who have not survived the institution of abortion. We have declared war on our children. They have wiggled and moved and jumped at their parents’ voices, and then they have suffered violence, and writhed in death. This is not sensationalist. It is cold, hard fact.
Our president last night spoke eloquently of the preciousness of children. The most poignant moment of his speech came when he testified to their courage: “And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.” We read this, and we have to fight to hold back emotion. Children are not innocent of sin, we know; they are depraved even as we all are. But when very young they do indeed possess childlikeness, a sense of wonder at the world. They incline towards the ideal in their thinking, even if they don’t live up to it. They want things to be good and right.
Do you see that? Even when these little ones were being attacked, they were offering to help. They were ready to protect others. Do we ourselves have the same instincts?
The president continued:
And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.
This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
I could not agree more with these words. I am the father of two sweet little kids. I know that of which he speaks. But I am also aware that what he intends to do in taking action to care for children is likely quite different than what I would propose. More than any other initiative, it is clear to the Christian conscience that “caring for our children” must mean ending abortion. How can we speak and approve of these words, nodding silently to the TV with tears in our eyes, and not make this connection?
America, see this; return to this truth: “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Let us take what steps we can, in light of our Constitution, to protect children in schools and public settings. It seems the fabric of our country is pulling apart. This will naturally mean, sadly, that schools may need armed guards and beefed-up security. It could possibly mean toughening of background checks (though it must not mean a loss of constitutional rights–may it never be). The need for conversation on these kind of matters reveals the depth of our morally sick society. But let us not miss this moment: if we feel terrible sadness over the deaths of these little ones, should we not also weep with Rachel over those sacrificed in the womb?
Should we not also repent of how we think of kids in America–as an inconvenience, as a burden, as a curse, as a little piece of property to be plopped in daycare far from us for hours by the day, as keeping us from the good stuff? Even if we do not buy into abortion, it is possible that this kind of thinking has affected us in some way. But the Scripture, and the law written on our heart, speaks a better word. Jesus called the little children to him. He loved them. He blessed them. So should we.
Herod massacred little ones. Jesus called them to himself.
May the church continue to own its identity as the Christlike nurturer of the weak and defenseless. May this be a witness to friends and loved ones who see our care for children, and who encounter afresh the moral foundation undergirding it. Our sin, after all, inclines us to selfishness, not sefllessness. In moments like these, we see the strength of biblical faith. There is no figure in the world who comes close to the Christ on this point. He not only loved children, but died for them. His work on the cross shimmers in glory, terrible beauty, in times like ours. It shows the world that there is a better way than our sinful, selfish lives. We have a chance to die to ourselves, and to live in Jesus, and to love as he loved.
Toward this end, may we hear this text again from Psalm 127:3-5:
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
May the church be filled with fathers who stand by their children, train them in righteousness, and beam at them in happiness, tousling their hair, wrestling on the ground, sticking with them through thick and thin in the image of a far greater Father.