7 10 2008
I attended Sunday School on Sunday for the first time in a long time (I’d been helping my mom teach it before that) and our lesson was about children. We started out by reading the following passage:

Matthew 18:1-6
1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Wow. Harsh words from Jesus. My pastor pointed out how this shows how much Jesus loves children and He doesn’t take kindly to those who harm them in any way, but particularly in matters of faith.

This raised an interesting point with me, and is one of the main reasons that I decided not to help teach Sunday School anymore. Those who know me well know that there are a lot of things within orthodox and/or Evangelical Christianity that I do not agree with. Some of the things taught in the childrens’ Sunday School classes nearly cross what I see as the line of what would “offend one of these little ones.” What exactly does Jesus mean by this?

Of course the obvious things like child abuse and abortion and deliberately deceiving children are included in the category of “offensive.” These are all terrible things and I become infuriated whenever I think about them. I wish I could do something to wipe these horrible acts off the face of the earth. However, I don’t believe that “evil non-Christians” and “unbelievers” are the only people who commit such a sin as is worthy of a millstone-drowning.

I’m the sort of person who really likes kids (probably having something to do with the fact that I act like a little kid most of the time). They are usually more interesting and fun to be around than adults or people my own age. They have an innate innocence about them and are very trusting. If you tell them that Jesus loves them, they will usually believe you and will begin praying to Him. However, one can also rob them of innocence and steal their childhood from them by telling them what is best represented by a cartoon I found somewhere on facebook:

I am going to declare right now that I will NEVER, EVER tell a child that if he or she does not obey Jesus or accept Him that He will send them to Hell where they will burn alive in fire for ETERNITY. I cannot imagine anything more horribly abusive to a child’s psyche than telling them something like that. Imagine a child hearing that for the first time. All his life he’s heard that Jesus loves Him and that Jesus loves everyone. He’s been told that we should believe in Jesus because He wants us to love Him just as He loves us. Now, someone tells him that UNLESS we love Jesus back, God plans to send us to a place of suffering where we will be not for a few hours, not for a few days, not for a few years, etc., etc., but for EVER. Can you even fathom how screwed up this kid’s mind will become? How can God love someone so much and then send them to such an awful place?

Most modern Christians believe in an “age of accountability” where a child becomes old enough to understand life, love, sin, death, etc. and are now responsible for their souls. In other words, they move from “If I die I’ll automatically be ushered into Heaven because I’m a kid” to “I will be sent to Hell forever if I do not believe something some guy said 2000 years ago.” Do you realize what you are doing if you tell kids about a God who sends people to an eternal place of suffering? You are forcing them through the gate of that “age of accountability” (by the way, I think that doctrine is absolutely bogus and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible). You are robbing them of their innocence and their faith in a loving Creator.

At the risk of sounding like a very bitter person, I was robbed of much of my childhood because of the doctrine of an eternal Hell. I harbor no bitterness toward any specific person for telling me this, because I’m sure that they honestly believed it to be true and were simply concerned about my soul (although I do harbor some bitterness toward the institutions and Bible-translators over the years that have kept this doctrine the prominent belief of Christians over the centuries through dishonesty and self-interest, but I’m trying to get rid of that). However, I spent many nights as a child and teenager in tears and terror, afraid that I somehow hadn’t done enough to appease this God that supposedly loved me. I often wished that I could just die and be in Heaven instantly so I wouldn’t have this fear hanging over me anymore. If you would wish this on any child, feel free to let them know what you think God will do to them if they don’t believe in Him.

Alright, back to the Sunday School lesson. We then moved on in the chapter of Matthew 18:

7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

Ironic, isn’t it? Here I am talking about how bad it is to tell children about an everlasting Hell, and yet it seems that that is exactly what Jesus does here (remember, He had just called a little child unto him). Of course, He’s not talking directly to children, but He’s still talking about it within hearing of at least one child. I don’t want to go into a long spiel about translations and things like that, but first of all, the word translated “everlasting” in verse 8 is the word αἰώνιον (aionion) in Greek, which I believe is better translated “age-during” or “aionian,” since it’s base word is the word aion, which means “age” (but that’s enough of that, I’m no Greek expert). Second of all, the word “hell” in verse 9 is actually the word γέενναν (Gehenna), which was an actual physical place in Bible-times and was the equivalent of a garbage-dump. (Interestingly, the word “hell,” when it appears in the Bible is translated from four different words, the Hebrew Sheol, and the Greek Gehenna, Hades, and Tartaroo. Apparently those who spoke Greek liked to use three different words for the exact same thing [according to many modern interpretations]). So, I’ll just leave it at that, with the fact that I don’t believe Jesus actually spoke about everlasting torture in front of children.

My pastor pointed out these sorts of words don’t usually come to mind when we think of a gentle Savior. As a matter of fact, it sounds downright violent… and it is. Sin (especially that committed against children) comes with very serious consequences and we would do well to avoid it.

Our final verse for the lesson was Matthew 18:10- Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Angels are constantly watching over children and can instantly contact God. If that doesn’t make you careful to treat children the way Jesus would, then I don’t know what will. I’m not one to use fear tactics to get people to act rightly, but I certainly believe that the strictest judgment is reserved for those who abuse children in any way. Of course, we’ve all mistreated just about everyone we’ve come across in some way, whether children or not, but this passage should encourage us to take special care in how we treat children. We need to let children know that God loves them and not threaten them with God’s unending judgment.

Remember, God is love, not merely loving. God is just, but is not justice (or vengeance). Justice is one of His character traits, but it is not the definition of His very being. Love is both his character and His very definition. There is not a dualism of “God is love/God is just” as most Christians see it. Love and justice are not equal and opposing forces in Him. His justice is not without love, they are closely intertwined. Mercy (love) triumphs over judgment.