Little savages

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He’s dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free rein to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.

You might think that’s a strange quotation with which to start a Christian magazine themed around children and families. But it’s here to help to us understand how much society has changed and how much we’ve lost our perspective. This particular quote is from the Minnesota Crime Commission, and was published in 1926. It’s virtually impossible to imagine any government agency saying anything similar today. But that excerpt accurately reflects what the Bible says about original sin and the responsibility of parents and society to love, teach and discipline.

When considering children, our society tends to lurch from one perspective to its complete opposite. Where children enter the national consciousness, it’s often to remind us that children need our protection (hence the current obsession with child protection and child advocacy). But the very next day, the claim might well be that because adults need to be protected from them (hence the middle-class hand-wringing over hoodies and ASBOs).

It is a tragedy that every year thousands of children are abused by adults. It’s also a tragedy that thousands of children feel that the rules of society do not apply to them, and that they can live their lives as they wish, with regard to others. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that both problems stem from a failure both to understand biblical principles, and to put them into practice.

God’s design

When examining what the Scriptures say about children, we find that it is full of what we might call ‘common sense’. That shouldn’t surprise us. God designed humankind in a particular way. He then revealed that truth to us in the Bible, along with clear principles on how we should live in the light of His plan. So it should not be a surprise to find out that what the Bible says actually fits our own experience and it really works! Therefore in this month’s magazine, you’ll find articles about children in church and children at home. There’s sound biblical advice on teaching children, on disciplining children and even on playing with children. It demonstrates the wonderful balance that Scripture gives us.

As Christians, we need to be clear in our thinking and consistent in our practice. We need to ensure that we really value children. Psalm 127:3 is well known: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” Valuing our children means providing for them, caring for them and, of course, praying for them (Job 1:4-5). And crucially, valuing our children means valuing the family. How else are our children going to be cared for? How else will they know that they are loved, cherished and held accountable? How can we say to children that they are hugely significant, and at the same time behave as if fathers are unimportant? How can we talk about the importance of caring for and teaching children, whilst always pushing mothers out of the home and into paid employment? As Christians, we need to take the lead in demonstrating the importance of family relationships.

Of course, it is easy to point the finger at society, and forget that as Christians we do not always get things right with regard to children. We have sometimes been guilty of judgmental attitudes which have exacerbated the problem of family breakdown at just the time when people need our support the most. There are encouraging signs that those attitudes are changing – but there is still much more that could be done in reaching out into our communities to support those who want to bring up their children within a stable family, but are finding it almost impossible.

There is another corrective towards a wrong attitude towards children that is prominent in the Bible. It’s the simple truth that children are a reflection of their parents.  I am sometimes told that I have inherited all my father’s bad points, and none of his good ones! Whether or not that is true, our parents are an enormous influence on us, both through what they show us, and also through what we fail to see in them. Speaking of the Israelites failure to worship God, 2 Kings 17:41 says, “To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.” Proverbs 14:26 states the other side of the coin, “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”

Of course that is not to remove the responsibility of children to behave in a godly way. Our society tends to excuse bad behaviour – “it’s the parents”, “it’s the schools”, “they have nothing to do”. All these things can contribute to delinquency, but they never excuse it. All but the smallest children know right from wrong – and even the very small are quite capable of deliberate naughtiness! Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.”

A great need

All this demonstrates the huge responsibility that we have for children – whether or not we have children of our own. It should remind us of the importance of Sunday Schools, Youth Groups and Summer Camps. Sometimes as Christians we can be guilty of seeing a changing society as an excuse to withdraw from work with children and young people, because we say it’s much harder than ever before. But I’m simply not convinced that is true. Working with children and young people has never been easy! So rather than withdrawing from children’s work, our churches ought to be redoubling our efforts. Society needs us more than ever.

But as we do so, we must understand two things. First, by focussing on children, we must focus on families. We often think of reaching parents through their children – but it is more biblical to think of reaching parents and their children. We need to give sustained thought and prayer to creating opportunities for whole families to come to church together, and be taught together. Second, we need to ensure that we are gospel centred. We can teach children (and perhaps even parents) Christian behaviour, but it won’t necessarily help their soul. We do not want to return to the situation of two generations ago, with millions of self-righteous religious pagans filling church buildings across the land. Our primary responsibility is to teach the gospel, and pray that the Holy Spirit would make it effective.

So what an encouragement to read what Jesus said of children in Matthew 11:25 and 18:2-5.

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

This article was published in May 2008. Bookmark the permalink.