Children in the
Bible: A fresh approach
OUR "national adviser for
mission theology, alternative spiritualities, and new religious
movements" is Anne Richards. Last year she was given time out from
this impressive multi-tasking - a period of leave she put to
excellent use by drafting this wise and challenging book.
Until not long ago there was
a dearth of theological reflection about children, but in recent
years the desert has rejoiced and blossomed. Only yesterday, it
seems, we were pleading for a Christian understanding of
childhood. Today we sometimes wonder what more there is to be
said.Children in the Bibleamply demonstrates that there certainly
is more to be said, especially - and here is Dr Richards's "fresh
approach" - if we ask what the implications of a biblical estimate
of childhood are for the issues facing all of us, grown-ups and
Children, Anne Richards
argues, are worthy of "calling, salvation, commission, healing, and
blessing", and these five keywords set the tune for her five
chapters. She begins with God's call to Jeremiah: "Before I formed
you in the womb, I knew you." The pages that follow on
embryogenesis are not a superfluous excursus. They recall us,
rather, to the place where, as Frank Lake taught us long ago, our
primal vocation "to be and become" is already being fashioned.
Should this notion seem far-fetched, we are reminded - if we had
ever noticed - that the first individual to respond to Jesus was
an unborn child.
Children are worthy of
salvation. That means that children should at least have a life.
Not that you'd think so from the terrifying texts Richards turns
to. We are reminded of the fate of Egypt's first-born; of the 42
little boys savaged by she-bears at the behest of Elisha; of King
Solomon's proposal that two prostitutes should have half each of
the newborn child each claimed as her own; of Abraham's readiness
to cut the throat of Isaac; and - unloveliest of OT legends - of
what happened to Jephthah's daughter. Dr Richards spares us
unpersuasive pieties on these unedifying texts. Her emphasis is on
the utter vulnerability of the children we meet in the Bible - and
whom we meet down our road and around our world.
God commissions children.
Much more is implied here than that they should be given little
jobs to do, handing out hymn books and the like. The call, uttered
first in Eden, is to become fully human. Dr Richards insists
that children - not because they are "cute", but because they are
disruptive and subversive - confront our contentment with the
less than abundant lives we settle for.
She concludes from the
raising from the dead of Jairus's daughter that "God finds children
worthy of healing." Such a miracle is a sign and a mandate, a
directive that God's justice must be done for the children who
needlessly suffer and perish in our own time. (I write these
comments as world leaders meet in London to sign the "Global
Nutrition for Growth Compact", a commitment to address the scandal
that under-nutrition is responsible for 8000 child deaths every
Finally, we come to the
famous passages recording how Jesus blessed the children whom his
disciples rejected. Richards's reading of these texts is
particularly suggestive. She invites us to consider the angry words
of Jesus in the light of his own experience of rejection.
A brief postscript concludes
that children are "the words of God in the world". Here is a book
to help us to listen to those words.
The Revd Dr John
Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney in east London.