This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
Continuing his discussion of the “upbringing” of children, Kuyper notes that raising children is natural because of
- their helplessness;
- the imitation that comes from example and custom.
We must not equate “natural” with “instinct.” Raising children is an intentional activity on our part and requires thought and effort. That said, the majority of it is invisible, and as a result it is divinely ordered. This divine order comes from the two features listed above, and so can be worked out in more detail.
First, in terms of the helplessness of children. The child is physically helpless and dependent on parents for biological life. So much is true of the animal world, but human children are also spiritually helpless and mentally helpless, which lasts much longer than we see in the animal kingdom. Kuyper thinks this stage lasts until around age 20.
Second, and more important based on how much time Kuyper spends on it (the bulk of the chapter) is the inclination to imitation built into the child. Kuyper’s primary example is that of language and the “mother tongue.” Children pick this up automatically, and very quickly lose the ability to do so. Just think how hard it is to learn a new language later in life!
But when children learn language, they aren’t just learning words, they’re picking up the entire cultural package that comes with the language. As the child learns words, they adopt the culture as well. This all runs in an undercurrent–none of us are intentionally teaching this to our children. Instead, it’s just kind-of happening along the way. God has designed upbringing to work this way, even though we don’t think about it. Even those of who who want to think about raising children based on Godly principles are still doing so in the culture.
In the broader sense, as Christians our goal is to do God’s will. This has two further implications for upbringing:
- We are caring for the “child’s personal existence.”
- We are caring for “the chain of successive generations as well as humanity as a whole.” (443)
“Humanity, taken as a whole, must glorify God.” (443) The nations who exist outside salvation still exist to glorify Him. Upbringing is how God keeps the whole human race going. And not just going, but how the race is able to advance. Upbringing is a passing on of the goods of civilization according to God’s plan. No one thinks this when they feed their child or teach them the ABCs, yet it is God’s plan anyway.