How should we teach our young children about marriage?

July 16, 2018

Jani Ortlund, and her husband Ray, have leveraged their lives and marriage for God’s glory. They love the Lord and his Word and seek to live it out and teach it, especially with their own family. Jani has recently written a children’s book that teaches the truth of Scripture about an area that is particularly confusing in our current culture—marriage. She answers questions below about her book, A Child’s First Book About Marriage: God’s Way is Always Best, and how parents can continually put God’s design for marriage on display.

1. Marriage seems like an unusual topic for a children’s book. Why did you choose it?

I chose to write a book for children about marriage because of all the confusion and uncertainty surrounding this topic. We can no longer assume that our children will grow up surrounded by biblical marriages and strong families. From very early in their lives, they need to hear about God’s good plan for marriage from the adults they love and trust.  

Marriage to another human being is the most sacred bond two humans can build.  Children deserve to know what marriage is, who made it, and how to enjoy it throughout their whole life. Parents need words to help guide their children along biblical pathways into this blessing from God. I hope this book will meet these needs.

2. Why is it important to begin to teach our children about topics like marriage from a very young age? What other topics should we be addressing?

If a child grows up sensing from day one that marriage is a good gift from God, he will long for that gift.

Children are extremely impressionable and open to what the adults around them say and do. The way a child thinks about himself and his future will be deeply influenced by how his parents and family talk to and treat him. If a child grows up sensing from day one that marriage is a good gift from God, he will long for that gift. If he learns God’s guidelines for marriage from an early age, he will be better equipped to develop a strong, Christ-centered marriage as an adult.

In Exodus 20:1-17, God gives us a perfect list of other topics to discuss with the children in our lives. The Ten Commandments cover every important relationship we have—with God, family members, and others outside our family. I consider this so important that I wrote a book about living out the Ten Commandments and giving them to our children, His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy (Crossway).

3. You have raised four children and are investing in your grandchildren, as well.  As a result of your years of experience, what advice would you give to parents of young children?

Well—this could take another whole book, but let me give it a try. Here are a few things Ray and I have learned in our years of parenting:

It is more “who you are” than “what you say”: From their first smile on, children absorb most thoroughly through observation and imitation. You will not be able to convince your children of the beauty and wonder of knowing God if they do not sense that he is beautiful and glorious to you. Talk often of the Lord—your gratitude and delight in knowing him, and your desire to follow his ways. Tell them examples of his care for you. Invite your kids to pray with you for specific needs, and then rejoice together in God’s answers. Live out before them the lives you hope they will someday lead.

Likewise, your children will not believe that marriage can be sweet and fulfilling if your marriage is filled with resentment and anger. Ask God to give you more love for your spouse, more sparkle in your relationship together. Let them see you embrace and kiss each other. Make sure they know that your spouse is the most important person in the world to you. Praise your spouse in front of your children. A secure and happy marriage will help you raise secure and happy kids who will grow into secure and happy adults.  

Enjoy the little years while training for the later ones: Children have so many behaviors that need to be curbed and redirected. I used to worry a lot about how my kids would appear to the adults in my world. One time I confessed to an older friend how embarrassed I was about our five-year-old still sucking his thumb. She wisely told me, “Don’t worry about anything he won’t be doing when he’s 16.” In other words, relax. Let them be children. Learn to distinguish between childish behavior they will outgrow—like poor sleeping patterns, food fussiness, security blankets, etc.—and character issues they will carry into their teen years—like defiant disobedience, deceit, or destructive tendencies.

Say “Yes!” whenever you can. But when you say “No,” mean it: Children will not flourish if you enter into negotiations over every request they make for more food, more time, more money, more everything. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no! Ray and I tried to rein in our inclination to say no too quickly. Would one more story at bedtime really be too exhausting for us? Would a cookie at 4:00 pm on that rare occasion ruin their appetites? Would five more minutes at the park change the course of our day too drastically? Would a “midnight feast” of apple slices under their covers with a flashlight be too big an indulgence? Whenever we reasonably could, we said yes to their little requests. And then, when we said no, we meant it—with an enforced no grumbling habit of obeying the first time.

Pray and play: Pray for your kids. Pray with your kids. I have a page in my prayer journal for each of my children and each of my grandchildren with verses of Scripture I am praying for them. I try to pray for each of them daily. I let them know I’m praying for them. When I visit them, our grandchildren see my prayer pages for them, with their pictures and verses and requests. I ask them to sign it so I can see their precious handwriting developing through the years. They know that we believe in the God who has told us, “Because he holds fast to me in love . . . When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” (Psa. 91:18). Pray for your family every single day of your life. Surely he will incline his ear and answer us.

But along with all the Scriptural training, make your family a fun place to grow up in. Do you laugh a lot together? Do you spend time together playing games and eating treats and going on adventures? Do you enjoy each other? Enjoyment feels like love, and children need a lot of it. Your home should be the happiest place your children experience in their growing up years. That means lots of playtime together.  

When our kids were young, we set aside each Friday night as family fun night. Sometimes there would be a new game to play or a special treat as we did our nightly reading together. Often we’d play “The Anything Game” where our young kids would silently act out anything they wanted, and we would have to guess what they were doing. How we’d laugh as we guessed! We still chuckle at the memory of four-year-old Krista’s mime of a candle.

There are no guarantees, but God gives us great foundational guidelines: There are no guarantees in raising your kids to know and love and serve the Lord Jesus with all their hearts. But there are biblical guidelines to counsel us along the way. Study the Scriptures. Let the Bible be the most important book in your home. Read it, learn it, and share it. Let it speak into every aspect of your parenting. Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind, and entrust your children to his tender care.

4. Reading a book is a start, but it’s not enough to counteract all the messages of the world, our flesh, and the enemy. What other steps can parents take to teach their children about God’s good design for marriage?

Expose your children to other marriages that are solid, godly, and filled with joy. Let them have plenty of up-close reasons to believe that God’s way is always best. You can do this through family or friends or church members. Or, you can go to history and read biographies of Christian marriages that show the world a tiny picture of the Big Romance—the one between Christ and his Church in love together. I think of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, Samuel and Susannah Wesley, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Billy and Ruth Graham—to name a few. Then, when they are confronted with relationships that go against God’s laws (even if they don’t go against the laws of the country where you live), they will have a solid foundation on which to stand as they think through God’s good purpose in marriage.

Celebrate your anniversary and tell your children why. Help them look forward to the day when they will get to share life with one very special person and build their own family.

And when appropriate, take your children to a wedding ceremony. Prepare them beforehand for what they will see. Talk about the symbolism, the music, the giving of the bride by her father, and the vows. When you get home, discuss what stood out to them, and begin dreaming with them of their own wedding day. Take some time to pray together about their future spouse.

My prayer is that God will help us raise up the coming generations to believe God’s way for marriage is indeed always best.  

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24