This paper is a summary of an academic paper originally presented in September 2003 to the participants of the annual Finnish/Russian dialogue on Values in St. Petersburg, Russia. The theme of the dialogue was "The value of a child in the 21st Century."
The core issue of "the value of the child in the 21st century" is life itself. The Bible relates that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalms 127:3). They belong first to God and second to their natural parents. Christian theism holds that children are entrusted by God into the care of parents to protect, provide, and mentor them to maturity. This maturity process includes physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions. The Christian value of life is concerned about quality of life, processes of maturity, and the ultimate objective of eternal life.
Christian theism, which incorporates theology (the study of God), begins with the existence of a living, personal God who exercises lordship over organic and inorganic, and physical and spiritual realms. Theism answers the questions posed by philosophy by means of objective (i.e., biblical record, miracles, and cosmological design) and subjective (i.e., morality, life experiences, and responses to prayer) explanations. The origin of life, eternal purpose, afterlife, and quality of life are clearly presented in the Bible. Jesus Christ said that "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (John 10: 10, 11, NIV). God, the life giver, also makes life meaningful.
Life Issues of Children
Major issues facing children in the global community include infant mortality, abortion, HIV, disease, drug abuse, malnutrition, and parental neglect and abuse. CARE USA reports that four million babies die annually during their first week of life. In another survey, they found that 91 out of 1,000 children in developing countries die before the age of five. Seventy percent or 8 million of these deaths are preventable (CARE, 2003). The World Health Organization (WHO) states that seven out of ten childhood deaths in developing countries are attributed to five causes: pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and malnutrition (WHO, 1998b). They also report that infant mortality was 7% in 1998, 10% in 1990, and 25% in 1950 (Greene, 1998). Infant mortality rates are improving, but still below any acceptable standards of a civilized world. Other statistics from WHO (1998c) are listed below:
- More than 1.5 billion young people (ages 10-24) live in the world today.
- In the least developed countries, only 3% of girls and 22% of boys enroll in secondary schools
- Seventy three million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14 are working worldwide.
- Adolescent abortions (1998) are estimated between 1 to 4.4 million a year.
- Ten percent of births occur to unwed mothers between the ages of 15-19.
- In 1977, One in 5,000 to 10,000 children died from physical violence in the home (WHO 1977).
- Eight hundred thousand children died in 1998 from malnutrition (WHO, 1998a)
- Fifty percent of HIV infections are among young people (WHO)
Drug and alcohol abuse is increasing for pre-adolescent children. Children are increasingly becoming the targets of sexual abuse and gang membership. The incidence of child violence and crime are on the rise in many inner-cities. The causes of these trends are multiple: (a) absence of parental examples, guidance, or authority; (b) hopelessness, or no vision for life; (c) poverty and hunger; (d) need to be accepted and belong, (e) basic survival; (f) absence of respect for self or others; and (g) lack of a moral base to know right from wrong. Concepts about life, morality, and civility are often learned on the streets or from peers instead of from parents and people of integrity. The issues of life and quality of life of children are shaping the demographics and behaviors of this generation and will profoundly affect the 21st century.
Biblical Concept of Life
The Bible often uses the word breath to distinguish the living from the dead. God breathed into man life and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). The blood of a person or animal is also used figuratively and literally for life (i.e., "the life is in the blood") (Lev. 17:14). Generally, life denotes the organic functioning of plants, animals, and mankind. The Greeks used two words for life, zoe and bios. "Zoe" denoted a vital, natural life force and "bios" the manner or quality of life (Brown, p. 474). The Bible relates God's investment in and concern for both categories of life.
Creation assumes a creator and implies personal accountability. Christians believe that God is the creator of the universe and the life-giver. The Bible states that God created the universe out of nothing.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Gen. 2:26-28)
The design, complexity, diversity, and unity of the universe point to a divine plan and purpose. This plan is first revealed in the book of Genesis and unfolds through the book of Revelation as an eternal purpose. This purpose is God's calling out of a people to Himself and restoring them to a right legal relationship through the substituionary atonement of Jesus Christ in order to fellowship with them throughout eternity.
God created man in His image. The prohibition to not kill human life was based on the rationale that man was made in God's image or likeness (i.e., taking human life was an offence on God). Christians believe the divine image includes the following elements: (a) free will, (b) moral attitudes and behaviors, (c) conscience to know right from wrong, (d) superior intelligence, (e) creativity, (f) spirituality, (g) personality, (h) self-determination, (i) emotion, and (j) dominion in creation. God is revealed as being "spirit" versus physical in substance, which implies that this impartation of image was spiritual and not physical. Spiritual growth (life) is often described as a gradual impartation of God's moral attributes into the life of a believer.
Adam and Eve were regarded as the supreme work of God's creation. In opposition to evolution, the biblical/historical record indicates they were the most "perfect" of human beings because they were created before the fall of mankind into sin and judgement. This implies they were physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually the model of humanity. They were the parents of the human race.
A discussion of the fall of mankind is important to understand the Christian value and theology of life. Genesis records that the first man and woman disobeyed God by eating of a forbidden fruit in the garden if Eden. God gave the first man and woman a free moral will to make decisions. Up to the fall, the man and woman had never known disobedience, guilt, or the consequences of their sin (sin is transgression of God's law). Because of their transgression, God pronounced judgement upon them and the earth and death entered into the world. Death in the Bible is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body; it literally signifies a separation, not termination of life.
The penalty or cost of their transgression was physical and spiritual death (i.e., eternal separation from God). Because this debt or penalty could not be paid by someone who was guilty of transgression against God, God became a human being and took upon Himself the penalty of mankind's transgression. Only one who was innocent of transgression could substitute his life for the guilty party. Redemption is the good news that a legal means (atonement) has been made to restore people to favor (life) with God.
Several biblical passages imply that life begins in the womb at conception. Most Christians believe the womb is sacred as a sanctuary of human life. David wrote the following passage in the book of Psalms 139:13-16 (NIV):
For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.... My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
God refers to Jeremiah as a person when he was in the womb of his mother (Jer. 1:4, 5) and Elizabeth called the child in Mary's womb (Jesus Christ) a baby (Luke 1:41-44). The physician Luke (Luke 1:15) mentions that John the Baptist would be "filled with the Holy Spirit" before birth. The Apostle Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians that God had set him apart and called him before he was born (Gal. 1:15). These and others biblical texts move Christians to react strongly to the practice of abortion. The taking of innocent human life (blood) is strongly prohibited by God (Proverbs 6:16, 17).
As of 1998, 54 countries legally allowed abortions. This accounts for 61% of the world population. Ninety-seven countries (39%) have abortion laws. Twenty two million abortions were reported in 1987 and an estimated four to nine million were not reported. This number could have reached 36 to 53 million globally (International Family Planning in Heritage House). A majority of Christians believe the single greatest threat to a child in the 21st century is death by abortion.
Medical science has documented human heartbeats on the 18th to 25th day of pregnancy. Electrical waves have been recorded as early as 40 days, and at 20 weeks, a child can survive outside of the womb (Heritage House, 1998). While many attempt to make abortion a political issue, it is actually a moral issue with great social implications for the 21st century. Many Christians believe that societies attitude towards abortion could provide a secular philosophical framework for euthanasia.
Early church literature, including the epistle of Barnabus, the Didache (a second century catechism for young converts), Marcus Aurelius A.D. 177, Tertulllian (Apology 9.4), Jerome, Augustine, Origen, and Chrysotom all denounced the practice of abortion as transgression against God (Christian answers, 2003). Many modern church groups have taken strong stands for the life of the unborn because of the theological and ontological explanations presented in this paper. Life should be the core value of a child.
Quality of Life
The Bible refers to quality of life by the terms fruitfulness, success, happiness, joy, purpose, and blessing. When a person believes his or her transgressions are forgiven by God, they experience a clear conscience (freedom from guilt) and a grateful attitude towards God. In the Old Testament, the quality of life was related to obedience to God's laws and precepts. Many of the writers of the Psalms wrote and sang of God's mercy and love in the struggles of life. The Bible does not teach that quality of life is the absence of problems, difficulties, or hardship, but the assurance of knowing that God will provide help to overcome problems for a higher purpose. Life's difficulties can actually take on purpose and meaning when they are perceived as a means to maturity. The processes of problem-solving and perseverance become as meaningful as their outcomes.
In the New Testament, quality of life is related to an assurance of God's favor and a sense of doing God's will (i.e., in accordance with His commandments). Quality of life in the Bible has also implied material blessing in some circumstances, but the focus is neither on the material/physical, nor the lack of possessions, but on a calm assurance that one is in a right relationship with God. Personal greed, lust, and pride of life are explicitly mentioned as the adversaries of quality of life in that they drive people to selfish ends (1 John 2:16, 17). Some writers, such as Buford who wrote the book Halftime, suggest that many people pass a threshold in their lives when significance in life becomes more important than success or promotion. Jesus Christ said that "life does not consist in the abundance of his possession" (Luke 12:15). Ecclesiastes 5:10 states that "he who loves wealth is never satisfied." Someone asked Howard Hughes, one of the richest men to live in America, how many millions of dollars was enough, he said "one more." A person who is never satisfied cannot practically experience quality of life from an inward perspective because he or she is driven beyond contentment.
Children begin to learn about the values of life at an early age by watching adults. They struggle with significance, acceptance, recognition, and sometimes survival in difficult environments. Quality of life for them is not always material. It can be the unsolicited, unconditional love of others; words of kindness; acceptance as a person; or the guidance of a mentor. Children can know the peace of God and posses an assurance of God's love. When children they reach an age of knowing right from wrong, they are especially receptive to asking Christ into their lives and to following His will.
God is the God of the livingAny discussion of the Christian value of life should incorporate the objective of human life, which is eternal life. When God reveled Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He said He was not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:37). This implies that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not dead in the sense of cessation of existence, but living. The expression "Abraham's bosom," which is often used as a synonym for heaven, implies fellowship with Abraham at a meal. Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross "today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Philippians (1:21-24) said that he desired to depart and to be with Christ and that to die was gain. Paul (2 Cor. 12:1-4), along with the Apostle John who wrote the book of Revelation, saw and heard events in heaven. Prophets in the Old Testament such as Daniel and Ezekiel also had glimpses of heaven.
Eternal life is a core belief to Christians. They live their lives with an expectation and hope of eternal life. Jesus Christ said that "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15b). He was referring to a child's eagerness to believe, and readiness to forgive and be forgiven. In the Christian's view of life, faith is the essential element to fully comprehend and experience what the Bible reveals about life in all of its aspects.
The Christian value of life is an exciting topic to study. Life in the biblical context can be viewed in four parts. First, the years of human life were reduced by God because of Adam's transgression in the garden of Eden. The sin nature of Adam was passed along to all humanity. Second, the quality of life of fallen humanity was dependent on wisdom and obedience to God. Third, God provides the hope of new life (abundant and eternal) through His substitutionary death. Eternal and abundant life is realized when an individual repents of his or her transgression and experiences an inward transformation by God, also known as regeneration. Fourth, life takes on an eternal perspective with a divine purpose.
The Christian value of life as it relates to the value of a child in the 21st century is a direct response to the questions posed by philosophy (i.e., what is truth? What is reality, or being? and What has value or meaning?). A child has a choice between the responses of secular humanism and the tenants of Christian theism for each of these questions. Christians believe that God brings meaning and purpose to believers by becoming personally involved in their lives. Paul relates in Romans 5:8 that "...God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
God's investment in mankind at creation and redemption substantiates that people, including children, are the central objects of His love and His eternal purpose. Jesus said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt. 19:14).
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