Those of us in St. Louis are currently wrestling with the death of a 13-month-old boy. He went missing yesterday, and his body was found, unclothed, in a nearby cemetery. With the crime scene a couple miles from our home, I watched 3 helicopters as I held my children, including my own 13-month-old. The mother has been arrested, and a community in shock awaits further details.
Last week, the Penn State scandal dominated the headlines. A highly regarded defensive coordinator is alleged to have abused numerous boys over the course of years, even using his own charity for access. He maintains his innocence, but admits showering with boys and "horsing around."
Children are among society's most vulnerable, which is why they can be so easily abused. Child abuse takes on many forms in our current culture as children are degraded, forgotten, and ignored. Much could be written on actual child abuse – physical, verbal, and sexual. But I’d like to focus on some more subtle forms. And I’m afraid that such forms have become common in our current culture.
Children are born and then forgotten. Some adults are so engrossed in their careers or personal hobbies that they abuse their kids by neglect. I’m not talking gross negligence like withholding food or shelter. There are laws that punish that kind of abuse. This kind of neglect does not carry a legal consequence.
Many parents balk when they realize the sacrifices necessary for children. They rely on baby sitters, not only to watch their kids, but to raise them. Nannies, daycare, TV, and video games become “outs.” They never eat dinner together. When evening comes there is no help with homework or inquisition about the day. Only the flicker of television light in every room, as each individual retreats to their own space. This kind of abuse denies sacrificial love, and ensures that the parents can go on living pre-child lives. Children become nuisances instead of people.
Children are born and then idolized. Many parents have kids and then live out their idolatrous desires through them. Such parents are too weak or lazy to discipline or they are philosophically opposed to hard boundaries. Such children are pampered and coddled. When children are idolized, they are believed to be innocent. “How could Johnny ever do anything wrong? I’m sure he didn’t mean to.” (They should read Psalm 51:5). In these households the children rule, not the parents (They should read the fourth commandment).
Another sign of this particular abuse is parents who find meaning and status in their child’s achievements. (Remember the dad screaming during the whole game from the bleachers?) Essentially, they live out their desires through the child. David Brook’s book On Paradise Drive describes “the professionalization of childhood.” Tim Keller comments on Brooks’ observations: “From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything. Brooks calls this a “massive organic apparatus, a mighty Achievatron.” The family is no longer a haven in a heartless world . . . Instead, the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.”
Children are not born at all. I’m not referring to abortion. That’s another article. I’m referring to the delay if not refusal to have children. What was once 2.5 children is now less than 2. One or two children is more manageable, fiscally responsible, and convenient.
I want to be very careful here. I am not advocating irresponsibility when it comes to child-bearing. And this not an indictment against couples with no children. There are factors to be considered. Yet there must be careful reflection when people say, “I don’t want to bring a child into this dangerous world.” Is fear the determining factor? “We want to wait until we’re at a good place financially.” Is money the determining factor? “We want to spend time doing what we want to do before having kids.” I am for this, but I have also seen couples married for ten years, and spending inordinate amounts of money on themselves.
In a culture of power, success, and individualism, children are often seen as liabilities and annoyances. When children are abused, especially in subtle ways, our world grows darker. Along with the handicapped, the poor, immigrants, and widows, children are given special attention in Scripture, even though they may not have it in the world. Jesus picked up a child and declared that the characteristics of children will be found in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3,4). Scripture consistently refers to us as children (Jn. 1:12; Eph. 5;1). The world always overlooks, abandons, and abuses the lowest and weakest. But Jesus calls them “blessed” and residents of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3).
Children cause us to sacrifice. They demand an excess of patience. Their cumbersome mobility cause us to slow down. Their constant need shows us their complete dependence on us. The frailty of their lives, their tantrums and outbursts, all show us the depth of meaning inherent in the word mercy. Such things belong to the Kingdom of God.