Suffer the Little Children: A Christmas Afterword
Approximately 150,000 mothers have given birth in the United States since Christmas. More than 34,000 babies have been aborted. What contemporary sensibility better reflects the diminished influence of the Bible in the West than does its altered perception and reception of children? From Genesis to Revelation, fathers, mothers, and their communities exult in the birth of their children as the purist of divine blessings this life affords.
Barrenness evoked desperate petitions to God the creator, the only life-giver, the opener and closer of wombs. The miraculous birth of Isaac to the aged Sarah established Israel, the chosen people, through whom the Messiah would come. Hannah’s tears at her bareness reached the Lord’s ears and she conceived the prophet Samuel in her womb.
Views on Children: King Herod Versus King Jesus
Through his notorious “Slaughter of the Innocents,” King Herod directed the murder of every Hebrew child under the age of two in the attempt to deprive the Christ child of whatever throne some Jews thought he might attempt to occupy.
The Jewish man whose birth we celebrated two weeks ago rebuked attempts by other adults to shoo little children away from him:
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:14)
No understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ is complete apart from the Annunciation from Gabriel: “‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus’” (Luke 2:28-31). We were, each and all, along with Jesus, conceived in the wombs of our mothers who hazarded their own lives to give us life.
For millions of evangelicals of a certain age, few Sunday School memories left a more indelible impression than the singing of these words on countless Lord’s Days, “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
We Were Once More Grateful for Children
That pregnancy, childbirth, and the raising of children by their birth parents are unparalleled divine blessings was not so much a conviction as an inherited awareness shared by the community into which I was born. The thought that the birth of children might be greeted with anything but gratitude and joy seemed unavailable to us.
Even my own mother’s failed, postpartum depression-driven suicide attempt in the wake of my entry into this world posed no threat to the birth-loving culture of life we shared. What more more affirming gift might a child receive than to be raised in such an environment? What more devastating loss to child’s wellbeing than the loss of such a culture?
The undoing of that culture coincided with my own birth in 1960. Second wave feminism began to lower its crosshairs upon pregnancy, childbirth, and the little ones. Children became threats that might bring suffering to mothers and others. Indeed, had not mine and my mother’s experience indicated as much? Her postpartum depression marked the onset of paranoid schizophrenia. Sixteen years later she succeeded in suicide. Like Jesus, second wave feminists saw suffering in procreation but not its promise — “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).
A Culture of Death
Has the West, in its rejection of Christianity, embraced a culture of death? Fertility and birth rates are in their sixth decade of decline. The suicide rate has increased 37% since the year 2000. What message is sent to children today? That they are uniquely welcomed, loved, and celebrated by their parents and their fellow Americans?
What scale of moral chasm must separate a population reflexively in thrall to the joyous miracle of childbirth from “enlightened” blue communities who fight for, obtain, and deploy Herodian prerogatives to slaughter and even to sell the body parts of their own children? What might the shift from the child-affirming culture some of us enjoyed to the potentially guilt-inducing question mark inscribed over the births of today’s children portend for America’s future.
Guilt for being born and for giving birth is now a real thing. Numerous chat websites boasting hundreds of thousands of users such as this one at Quora, chronicle the growing community of children (young and old) who wish their mothers had aborted them and of mothers who wish they had done so. Both Jeremiah and Job lamented that they had ever been born. But their Heavenly Father who gave them life knew better. Eventually, so did they.
Today, the abuse of children commences long before they are born. At some point they awaken to the blue community fear that they will hamper the happiness and hopes of their parents to enjoy prosperous careers. They awaken to community lament at the carbon footprint their abortion might have prevented.
The Bible tells us that Satan perpetuates two evils — he lies and he murders. He does the first for the sake of the second. “You will not surely die” Satan assured Eve as she contemplated the forbidden fruit that promised to make her like God, knowing good and evil. Belief in the lie lands us in world where not only the good offered to Adam and Eve is to some extent known but also the death trust in the lie delivered.
Doing the Work of Herod
We are now doing Herod’s and Satan’s work for them, “biting and devouring” ourselves (Galatians 5:15); lying about childbirth and killing ourselves. In what sort of world do images of babies being ripped from the wombs of their mothers in the streets of Southern Israel evoke not sympathy and outrage from elite university campuses, but instead uncork an apparently bottomless antisemitism? Once Kendi anti-racism made Jews white oppressors, hate for them became an unchallengeable virtue for some. What percentage of the nation realizes that Harvard University is a moral sewer? Who believes that the overturning of Roe will benefit the GOP in 2024?
The 16 years between my mother’s failed and “successful” suicide attempts were filled with the entire gamut of experiences between mother and child. Recovered from postpartum depression brought her back to the Christianity-nourished, child-affirming culture our community afforded. She did not earn that culture. Did not deserve it. No one did. No one could. All such blessings are bestowals. We inhabit them and become their beneficiaries apart from awareness of other options. Whether we recognize it or not, we become better or worse stewards of our cultural inheritance. Too often, only the intrusion of rival sensibilities alert us to how precious and consequential was that inheritance and shall be its loss.
Black Lives Matter’s drive to “decenter” the nuclear family and vison for a queered country woke some up to the evil Wokening of America. Biden’s championing of transgender mutilation woke up more. Now the spectacle of a morally valorized Hamas and churning antisemitism offers new opportunities to ponder what is replacing what once prevailed for many — an America in which white Southern Baptist women taught white cisgendered children to sing “Jesus love the little children. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”
As a pastor I bear the happy burden of care for the souls of many, including expectant mothers. What the creator wove into the spiritual DNA of humanity still shines from the faces of those mothers and the little communities of believers that surround them. Neither Satan nor his servants on this earth can undo what the creator established. Pregnancy, childbirth, and the raising of the little ones belong to the deepest, most sacred purposes of human life. Contrary voices are lies. Do not believe them.
Mark DeVine teaches Historical Theology at the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University. He is the author of three books, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus as All Costs, RePlant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again, and Shalom Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Embracing All Three Dimensions of Creation and Redemption. He served as a missionary to Bangkok, Thailand, and now serves as Teaching Elder as Some Rise Baptist Church in Smoke Rise, Alabama.