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Does the value of children depend on their usefulness?

Children are a gift, not a liability

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March 18, 2021

“Kids are cute but they’re not really eco-friendly.” This is the title of a troubling 2017 article making the rounds, and making waves, on the internet. With an image of a smiling family of five pasted front-and-center, oddly enough, Caroline Mortimer spends the entirety of her allotted space comparing having children to other “carbon emitting activities” like eating meat, driving a car, and traveling by plane. The implication is that having many kids is irresponsible and harmful to the planet. 

Leaning on a study performed by Lund University in Sweden, Mortimer concludes that “having children is the most destructive thing a person can do to the environment.” As readers, we must not rush past this statement too quickly. While the article goes on to quote the referenced study, championing the good that would come if families have just “one fewer child,” Mortimer’s conclusion is more cut-and-dry––having children at all is destructive. As Christians, what are we to say to Mortimer’s grim assertion?

What God says about children

Mortimer presents a sort of utilitarian view of children—they are worthwhile only so long as their usefulness outweighs their supposed liability to the planet. In her view, and in the view of the study, because children produce something like “58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year,” they’re more damaging to the environment than eating meat or traveling. That being the case, their existence should be limited, says Mortimer. A child’s value is not inherent in this view, but contingent on how many brothers or sisters he or she has and their cumulative carbon output. 

Christians should know that the underlying assumption put forth by Mortimer and those who share her sentiment is both mistaken and unbiblical. A child’s value cannot be reduced to the sum total of his or her carbon footprint, but what the Author of life declares it to be. Rather than taking our cues from the assumptions of this study’s researchers and their utilitarian philosophy, we should listen to how God speaks to us in his Word. 

Here are three things God says in the Bible about children.

  1. Children are loved by God

“The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father,” says Michael Reeves in Delighting in the Trinity. He goes on to say, “He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father.” Children are loved by God, first and foremost, because God is Father, and God is love.

Likewise, because we know that God the Father loves his Son, the second person of the Trinity, we can be certain that he loves our sons and daughters. He sent his beloved Son into the world, after all, because he “so loved it” (John 3:16). The Scriptures are replete with references and allusions and illustrations of parental love precisely because God is not just a loving Creator, but a loving parent, “A father to the fatherless” (Psa. 68:5).

  1. Children are a gift from God

In Psalm 127, Solomon’s song declares that “children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3). Contrary to what is implied in the article referenced above, there is no hint here of children being a liability or encumbrance of any sort, but purely a gift from a kind and gracious God. 

Furthermore, we read God’s words to Adam and Eve in the earliest pages of Scripture, telling them to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” a directive that still stands. Even the phrase itself, “be fruitful,” suggests that the offspring produced through the union of man and woman is good and to be desired (like fruit), and a process by which the cultural mandate and, relatedly, the Great Commission go forward. 

We are not meant to value our children based on their utility but because they have been created by God and given as a gift. We are to take joy in receiving the gift (John 16:21) and glorify our Father in heaven.  

  1. Children are welcome in the kingdom of God

In a scene that must have confounded Jesus’ disciples, Jesus spoke to his followers, after they had barked at a group of children and those who accompanied them, saying, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). And before leaving, the text says that Jesus “placed his hands on them.” Children are not just welcomed into the kingdom of God, they are welcomed with a hug.

But, of course, the text does not suggest that children are only welcome in God’s kingdom. Jesus states that the kingdom of God belongs to such persons, an idea that would have been unthinkable in the first century. Children, according to Jesus, are not expendable or disposable in God’s kingdom based on some carbon output equation, but are to be emulated within the kingdom. They have something to teach us. In fact, we won’t enter God’s kingdom unless we enter as little children ourselves (Matt. 18:3).

Turn and become like children

We live in an “enlightened” generation so confused as to suggest that being fruitful and multiplying is more harmful than it is blessed. But we are not called to weigh the pros and cons of a child’s carbon footprint before we consider the unchanging words of God. This sort of equational logic has no place in ascribing value to a child. 

In fact, the crux of Mortimer’s logic is entirely backward, according to Jesus. His counsel to us is not to turn children away so we can make adult decisions, from discipleship to family planning, but for adults to “turn and become like children” (Matt. 18:3), the very ones Mortimer is suggesting we disallow. Children are a gift and a blessing and a heritage, not a liability. And we have much to learn from them.

The devaluing of children is fundamentally at odds with the Christian worldview. From Jesus’ proclamation that children are welcome in the lap of God to the Apostle John’s statement that the Father calls his saints “children of God” (1 John 3:1), both physical children and spiritual children are precious and loved by the God. Rather than employing equations that suggest we sacrifice our prospective children for the sake of the planet, we should “be fruitful and multiply,” bearing children for the cause of joy, for the sake of the gospel, for the good of the nations, and, yes, for the sake of our planet. So may the children of the world abound and teach us what it means to be “great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Jordan is married to Juliana, and they have three children. Read More by this Author