Ever since Eden, God has given children a crucial role in the coming of his kingdom. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring,” God told the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And so, ever since Eden, there has also been a long and desperate war on children.
The biblical story shows us just how ruthless this world’s anti-child forces can become: Pharaoh casting Israel’s sons in the Nile (Exodus 1:22). Demonic “gods” bidding parents to pass their children through fire (Jeremiah 19:4–5). Herod slaughtering Bethlehem’s boys (Matthew 2:16).
Our own society is not above such bloodshed: more than sixty million invisible headstones (from the last fifty years, and still counting) fill America’s fields. Much of the modern West’s aversion to children appears, however, in subtler forms. Today, we are having fewer children than ever, later than ever. We diminish, and sometimes outright despise, stay-at-home motherhood. And too often, we treat children as mere accessories to our individualism: valuable insofar as they buttress our personal identity and further our personal goals — otherwise, inconvenient.
As Christians, we may be tempted to assume that this war on children exists only out there. But even when we turn from the world of secular individualism and carefully consider ourselves — our hearts, our homes, our churches — we may find strange inclinations against children. We may discover that anti-child forces can hide in the most seemingly pro-child places. And we may realize, as Jesus’s disciples once did, that children need a larger place in our lives.
Pro-Child on Paper
As with most Christians today, the disciples of Jesus grew up in a largely pro-child culture. Their views of children may not have been as sentimental as ours sometimes are, but they knew kids played a key role in God’s purposes. They remembered God’s promise to send a serpent-crushing son (Genesis 3:15). They regularly recited the command to teach God’s word “diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). They cherished God’s faithfulness to a thousand generations (Exodus 34:7).
But then, one day, some actual children approach the disciples. And as Jesus watches how his men respond, he feels an emotion nowhere else attributed to him in the Gospels: indignation.
They were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant. (Mark 10:13–14)
The disciples likely had the best of intentions. To them, these children (or their parents) were acting inappropriately; they were coming at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Not now, children — the Master has business to attend to. They were about to discover, however, that far from distracting the Master from his business, children lay near the heart of the Master’s business.
In the process, they also warn us that claiming a pro-child position does not mean living a pro-child life. You can theoretically value children and practically neglect them. You can say on paper, “Let the children come,” while saying with your posture, “Let the children keep their distance.” You can look with disdain on the anti-child forces in the world and, meanwhile, overlook the precious children in your midst.
We, like the disciples, may hold pro-child positions. Our churches may have pro-child programs. But actually being pro-child requires far more than a position or a program: it requires the very heart and posture of Christ.
Heart of Christ for Children
“Jesus loved children with a grand and profound love,” Herman Bavinck writes (The Christian Family, 43). And do we? Answering that question may require a closer look at our Lord’s response when the little children came to him.
How might we become more like this Man who made his home among the children, this almighty Lord of the little ones? Among the various pro-child postures we see in Mark 10:13–16, consider three.
First, Jesus created a warm and welcoming presence for children.
Something in the demeanor of Jesus suggested that this Lord was not too large for little children. Young ones apparently hung around him with ease, such that he could spontaneously take a child “in his arms” while resting with his disciples in Capernaum (Mark 9:36). Later, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, children gladly follow him, shouting their hosannas (Matthew 21:15–16). And then in our scene, parents and children approach him apparently without hesitation (Mark 10:13).
“Something in the demeanor of Jesus suggested that this Lord was not too large for little children.”
What about Jesus communicated such an unthreatening welcome? We might note the times he helped and healed children, like the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:41–42) or the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14–15). Yet these stories are also examples of a far larger pattern in Jesus’s ministry, which was noticeably bent toward those the world might consider “little”: lepers, demoniacs, tax collectors, prostitutes. He was not haughty, but associated with the lowly (Romans 12:16). And children, seeing this lover of lowliness, knew they were not too lowly for him.
If we too want to become a welcome presence for children, we might begin by bending ourselves toward lowliness in general. Upon entering our Sunday gatherings and small groups, and as we move through our cities, do we see the lost and lonely, the bruised and broken? Do we wrap gentleness around vulnerability and bestow honor on weakness? If so, children are likely to notice our humble, bent-down hearts, a presence low enough for them to reach.
Second, Jesus made children a practical priority, giving them generous amounts of his time and attention.
If anyone had good reason to shuffle past the children — “Sorry, kids, not now” — it was Jesus. No one had higher priorities or a loftier mission. No one’s time was more valuable. Yet no one gave his priorities or his time so patiently to those we might see as distractions. On his way to save the world, our Lord paused and “took [the children] in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:16). His life and ministry were full, but not too full for children.
In our own lives, prioritizing children calls for active planning, a willingness to devote portions of our schedule to play and pretend. But as Jesus shows us, prioritizing children also calls for responsive receiving, or what we might call living an interruptible life.
Children are master interrupters. Tugs on the jeans and cries from the crib, impulsive addresses and immodest stompings — kids have a way of ruining well-laid plans. The more like Jesus we become, however, the more readily we will embrace our ruined plans as part of God’s good plan. And we will remember that if Jesus could pause to linger with little children, then we too can pause our own important tasks, bend down on a knee, and give children the eye-level attention of Christ.
Third, Jesus prayed and pursued children’s spiritual welfare.
When the children came to Jesus, he not only received them and held them; he not only looked at them and spoke to them. He also laid his hands on them and, in the presence of his Father, bestowed a benediction upon their little heads (Mark 10:16).
We don’t know how old the children were, but they were young enough to be brought by their parents (Mark 10:13). They were young enough, too, that the disciples apparently saw little spiritual potential in them. Not so with Jesus. The Lord who loves to the thousandth generation sees farther than we can: he can discern in a child’s face the future adult and budding disciple; he can plant seeds of prayer in fields that may not bear fruit for many years.
Do we invest such patient spiritual care in children? When we pray for our friends, do we bring their little ones, by name, before the throne of grace as well? Do we find creative ways not only to joke and play with the kids in our churches, but also to share Jesus with them in thoughtful, age-appropriate ways? And do our evangelistic efforts take into account the not-yet-believers walking knee-high among us?
Oh, that each of us, parents or not, would join the mothers and fathers in Mark 10, desperate to hand our children into the blessed arms of Christ. When we hear him say, “Let the children come,” may we respond, “We will bring them.”
Posture, Not Programs
If our treatment of children looks more like the disciples’ than our Lord’s, then our problem, at heart, is that we are not yet children at heart. “Let the children come to me,” he says, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14–15). We have become too big; we have outgrown grace. For the doorway into the kingdom is small — so small that we can enter only if we kneel to the height of a little child.
To oppose the anti-child forces in this world, we need more than a pro-life position, a high view of motherhood, and a robust Sunday school program. All these we may have and more, and yet still become the objects of Jesus’s indignation.
We need a posture, a spirit, a kinship with the living Christ, who left the highest place for the lowest, who became a child so we might become children of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we will love children. The more like him we become, the more powerfully will our presence, our priorities, and our prayers say, “Let the children come to him” — and the more the children will come.