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.
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.