No More Mr. Nice Guy: Jesus and Children

It’s a scripture that many avoid. We don’t want to believe that Jesus would utter violent words, so when he does we pretend like he didn’t really say them. But what if we took seriously Jesus defense of children? What if churches were willing to go to war for the protection of the kids who were in their care? Jesus is often painted as a fuzzy, cuddly kind of guy who was always soft spoken–a pacifist who turned to the other cheek at all costs, even the cross.

But the reality is that Jesus sheds his nice-guy persona when children are willfully led into darkness. Listen to his words: “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea‘” (Matthew 18:2-6 NIV). I’m not arguing that Jesus was talking about vigilante justice here. Rather, he is talking about the justice of God. Over and over again Jesus talks about judgment, exclusion from the Kingdom, and torment with weeping and gnashing of teeth. God does not smile at abusers, pat them on the head, and say, “There, there, my unfaithful servant. Just try harder next time.” And neither does Jesus.

In fact, it is not often that we find Jesus visibly upset. But when children are involved, the gloves come off. The word for “to become angry at” is only used once of Jesus, and it appears in Mark 10:14: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant” (Mark 10:13-14 NIV). Jesus then rebuked his disciples and took the kids in his arms to bless them. But only after he tells them that anyone who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a kid will never make it there. An angry Jesus. A Jesus who says a person would be better off to have death by drowning than to cause a kid to sin. In other words, “You think that downing was bad? You haven’t seen anything yet!” Let that sink in for a minute.

After conducting a workshop on child abuse, a young woman came up to me in tears. “I tried telling my mom that dad sexually abused me. She told me that I probably just imagined it. A few years later I got the strength to talk to someone at church about it. I was told that the Bible says to forgive and I need to move on. How can I trust anyone anymore? Doesn’t God care that he did this to me? I don’t even know if I believe in God anymore.”

When our response to abuse is a pacifist view, and when children are told to “just get over it” or to “learn to forgive like the Bible says,” I wonder if some of the wrath of God will not be reserved for them as well. I know–but their intentions were good. They didn’t mean to harm a kid by telling them those things. But guess what? They did. The last time I read my Bible cover to cover, I failed to find where people are rocket launched to heaven for having good intentions. We Christians are just as likely to “cause one of these little ones to sin” as the abuser if we give them a picture of God as someone who couldn’t care less about their abuse. And pulling scriptures out of context in order to not have to face an uncomfortable conversation is no excuse for damaging children’s eternal souls.

I’m just thinking out loud, but perhaps we should tell our sons and daughters, our children in the pews, our students in the schoolroom that we’d be damned (literally) if we would ever intentionally allow someone to harm them. I go out of my way to tell my 3 year old daughter that I will always try to protect her and that if anyone ever does something to hurt her she can always tell her mom or me. Kids should feel protected. They were designed by a Creator to feel safe and secure in a stable home. They shouldn’t have to fear that if they tell mom and dad about something bad that happened, they will get in trouble or be ignored. One night as I was putting my daughter to bed she said, “Dad, you make me feel safe.”

We exchanged “I love you”-s and as I walked out of her room I fell apart. I cried as I thought about the countless children who feel abandoned rather than safe. It’s time to take a closer look at the anger of Jesus and live in His shadow.

7 thoughts on “No More Mr. Nice Guy: Jesus and Children”

  1. Brilliant. It needs to be said that love is not passive, and that God has a special concern for the vulnerable. This reminds me of that Hillsong song, Love Is War: that there is a time when we have to stand up and say, no, this is not happening as far as I am concerned. Thanks for writing this.

  2. That is what people expect of me. Just change the way I am, pray, don’t say a bad thing against them, what did you do wrong?, forgive, move on, it’ll get better. You know something? God forgives but the sins you commit on earth have lasting impact. That forgiveness is for God to be able to see you.. Not so your in the clear on earth you still have your mess to clean up. But it’s the victims that have the whole life screwed up.

    1. You’re a living example of the clichés that are heaped onto victims. “What did you do wrong?” That’s one of the most damaging things that can be said to someone who has been victimized as a child. One day soon I will write on things that should never be said to victims of abuse (this means for the rest of their lives). You’ve mentioned a handful of the very damaging things that hurt the abused and go against the grain of God’s heart. God bless you and don’t listen to those voices. You’re worth more than that to God.

  3. My husband and I were just talking about this bible verse the other night. Jesus was not mincing words and there was not a lot of grace being extended either. We get sick and tired of hearing Jesus described as this mamby-pamby pacifist. Yes, he is loving and long suffering and very gracious to some of the most marginalized members of society. But in this instance, he saw something more. He saw a condition of the heart that is so heinous and dark that he pronounced quite the judgment for those who intentionally hurt children. We all know the damage that can be done to a child’s mind when they are abused.
    Forgiveness that is spoken of in the bible, I believe, is widely misunderstood. And even when it is extended, forgiveness does not have to equal restoration of a toxic relationship. “I forgive you. But I don’t give you permission to come back into my life and ruin me again” – that is how we should look at it when it goes beyond a simple argument amongst friends. There may not be levels of sin – sin is all the same in God’s eyes, from the smallest to the greatest. But there are levels of consequences of that sin. And I don’t think that someone who has suffered a severe consequence as a victim should have to give blanket forgiveness. Yes, giving forgiveness is often better for the victim so that they aren’t dealing with a bitter and vengeful heart which can lead to an unhappy life. And that forgiveness doesn’t even have to be shared with anyone. It can be just a private thought. But for goodness sake, don’t expect forgiveness to be one act, one time. It can take years and years to forgive someone. You can take two steps forward and one step back while in the process. The worst thing is to tell someone to “just get over it”, “if you will quit dwelling on it and talking about it all the time, it wouldn’t be such a problem,” “quit being so negative”, “forgive and forget, that’s what you should do.” Platitudes should be kept to oneself. I’m sure you understand what I am saying. And I’m not accusing you of the above – just venting a little.

    1. Hi Lorrie. Sorry for the slow response, but I wanted to reply. I echo everything you are saying, and you have a lot of wisdom. As a minister, I get frustrated with all the false theologies being preached out there on forgiveness. There are different degrees of sin and you are right, forgiveness sometimes takes years. What’s maddening is when I listen to stories of victims being forced by church leaders to face their abuser, publicly forgive them (adding to their humiliation, shame, and, ironically, their emotional invisibility), and worship with them. I’m prayerful that this culture in the church will change, but it will require a lot of unteaching, followed by biblical teaching. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

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