Ugly and True, Part II

February 8, 2013

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.  

The heartbreaking story Nicholas Kristof told about families in the Congo and elsewhere, in which fathers use their income to pay for drinks instead of a child’s schooling, reveals a deep challenge facing communities in the developing world. If a father’s love for his child doesn’t produce a providing and protecting presence in the family and a bond among men throughout the urban slum or rural village, the consequences are far more devastating than uneducated children. 

Kristof scratches the surface by highlighting the pure economic impact of dollars spent on beer instead of books. Certainly the mind of a child will be stifled by this reality, but what can be said of how this affects his soul? Unfortunately, a child’s innate desire for her father and mother’s love is not reciprocated by a father’s innate desire to give it. It’s a choice. Mother’s tend to have a greater propensity for loving their child than fathers do. But as Kristof’s research implies, wives have very little power to influence their husbands’ behavior. Instead, Kristof suggests the most reliable option is ‘redirecting’ a family’s financial control to mom.

Kristof sees the scourge of alcoholism in the developing world, yet seems to avoid directly confronting the men and their behavior. Maybe he’s just seen too much oppression in male-dominated societies around the world (“I’ve seen too many children dying of malaria for want of a bed net that the father tells me is unaffordable, even as he spends larger sums on liquor.”) and doesn’t have much hope in that effort.

If AWL’s goal in the Southern Ethiopia, not to mention the purpose of family and community in general, was solely helping kids live longer, educated lives, then empowering women financially would possibly be enough, and we could overlook their cultural need for a reformation of fathers. But in typical fashion, Jesus and His Gospel won’t let us compartmentalize these issues. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Jesus reprimanding the disciples for ‘hindering children’ from coming to Him. The context speaks to much more than the historically recognized mandate to be humble in order to ‘receive the kingdom of God’.  Jesus certainly had the attention of husbands and fathers as he interrupted his teaching on divorce to acknowledge, touch, embrace, receive, bless and honor the children that were hopping up and down from his lap.  Matthew’s account says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” This turn of phrase seems to say, the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who become like children and those who honor them as He does. 

An addicted father may look a bit more helpless on the outside than the disciples and their distorted understanding of Jesus’ royalty. But He confronts them each – and the whole culture they represent with this truth: If you honor children like I do, you get my Kingdom, the Kingdom of heaven.  In mystical fashion, Jesus combines wanting His Kingdom and esteeming children. For Jesus, it’s not ‘all about the kids’. Otherwise, he would have signaled to the women nearby to look for alternative ways to provide for their kids and moved on. But He doesn’t.  Why not? Because, for Jesus, it’s all about His Kingdom, where dads loving their kids is just as significant as kids getting what they need.

We seek the ultimate health and prosperity of the community beyond education and disease prevention. We want to find ways to help dads choose to honor and uphold the value of their children. In so doing, they will invite Jesus to bring His kingdom and blessing to their family.  The power of this pursuit is the knowledge that communities with these values will provide for, protect, educate, and encourage their children. How do fathers get this kind of desire for God’s kingdom?  They are born again.