Singapore is facing a crisis. Her citizens are not reproducing enough. Hence the Singapore government is stepping in with “a bonanza of tax benefits, generous leave and other child linked perks” (Lee Siew Hua, “Big Perks for Big Families,” The Straits Times, August 21, 2008, 1) in an attempt to raise the existing “fertility rate of 1.29 closer to the replacement rate of 2.1.” The problem is not peculiar to Singapore. Most developed countries have seen a drop in birth rates. While the reasons for this trend are many and complex, it is easy to see why children are not welcomed in societies defined by productivity and consumption.
The modern work world is demanding. Children slow us down.
One reason we flee the company of children is the pursuit of achievement — getting important things done, building careers and businesses, writing books, and gaining powers social and intellectual. If you let children become a serious part of your life, they inevitably slow you down, and quite a few parents these days slight their children because they aren’t willing to slacken their pace. (Robert C. Roberts, Taking the Word to Heart, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993, 224.)
Then there is the matter of having the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labours. In a world where consumerism is ubiquitous, we are told that our reward for working hard is the right to buy, consume and enjoy a whole host of products and services that are supposed to make life fun and meaningful. Children are a drag that prevent people from the enjoyment they feel is their due. In a world dominated by the motto of working hard and playing hard, children have no place.
What should be a Christian response to the ongoing debate about the place of children in modern society? Again, we are reminded that we are not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:2) And when we turn to the Scriptures we find many reasons why we should welcome children.
First, as Roberts remind us, there is much to be learned from raising children.
Children have the power to transform us in a variety of ways. They enhance our sense of vulnerability, and so they may incline us toward greater dependence on God. Knowing that in our children our stake in the well-being of this planet extends beyond the years of our own lives may provoke a greater sense of responsibility about the environment. And of course, child rearing is an excellent school for learning virtues like patience and self-control. (Roberts, Taking the Word to Heart, 223)
Not being able to sleep for three nights in a row because your newborn is colicky wonderfully reminds you of your need for God and community. I look back on my years as a single parent as the time when I was seriously weaned from my default selfish individualistic approach to life. There are many spiritual benefits from raising children.
But beyond the benefits of raising children is the call to value children for their own sakes. Mark 10:13-16 records one of the few times that Jesus was very angry.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (TNIV)
In this incident Jesus’s disciples acted as bouncers, preventing the little children from being brought to Jesus. In doing so the disciples were merely reflecting the values of the day. “In the ancient world, children had no status. They were easily ignored and barred access because no one would take the trouble to complain and fight for them” (David E. Garland, Mark, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 381-382).
By His anger, Jesus reveals His heart and reveals what God really thinks of children. God values children and does not see them as second class to adults. (Is this aspect of God’s heart reflected in our churches?) There is nothing here about children being more innocent than adults. All of us who have had to raise children know that original sin manifests itself early. What is highlighted is the children’s powerlessness. It is their powerlessness that enables them to receive the blessings of God.
So while Christians in Singapore may applaud the government’s present emphasis on having children, and indeed even benefit from it, ultimately we take our cues from God and His Word. The church must value children because God does. Children have valuable lessons to teach us and they are valuable because they also carry the image of their Maker.
Deep down all of us long to be held by Abba Father and to be blessed by Him. As we carry our children and bless them we are reminded that we have a heavenly Father who wants to carry us and bless us. If we eliminate children from our lives, we lose this sacramental reminder of how much God loves us.
Bernice and I have no illusions about how difficult it is to raise children. We have four boys between us. We are immensely relieved that two of them should be working and earning their own keep by next year. In the matter of raising children, we have paid our dues. But there are days when we wonder what it would be like to have another child, a daughter perhaps. There are days when we miss holding our own newborn in our arms. But at our age, and with all our energies taken up in building our new ministry…. But there are days…