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Toward a Theology of

Childhood
DAWN DEVRIES
Professor of Systematic Theology
Union-PSCE

Communities of faith have much to learn from children's experience of God and their view of the world. Theology that values the
perspectives of children will address quite different questions
from the ones that have dominated the Christian tradition.

W

ho speaks for the children? Who makes certain that their concerns are
addressed in contemporary society? While we have just lived through
the longest uninterrupted bull market in the history of the United
States—a market that has created untold wealth for a few—roughly one in five children
among us is growing up in poverty.1 During the last decade, while prosperous baby
boomers have devoted themselves to the philosophy "work hard, play hard," their preschool
children have undergone a 700% increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs for
mental illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.2 While the
National Rifle Association defends the constitutional right to bear arms and celebrates the
American sportsman, gunshot wounds have become the leading cause of death among
American teenagers, closely followed by suicide. In 1996 alone, 4,643 children and teenagers
(and 9,390 people in all) were killed by guns in America. That compares with a total of 15
deaths by gunshot wounds in Japan and 30 in Great Britain during the same year.3 Such
grim statistics about the experience of childhood in the United States, which claims to be
the leader of the free world, are well known and appalling.

^ee statistics provided by the United States Census Bureau on its website at www.census.gov. See also The State
of America's Children: Yearbook 2000 (Washington, D.C.: Children's Defense Fund, 1998).
2
J. M. Zito et al., "Trends in the Prescribing of Psychotropic Medications to Preschoolers," The Journal of the
American Medical Association 283/8 (February 23, 2000).
3
See P. R. Breggin, M.D., Reclaiming Our Children: A Healing Plan for a Nation in Crisis (Cambridge, Mass.:
Perseus Books, 2000) 41, 62-63.
Downloaded from int.sagepub.com at Open University on January 6, 2015

Within the limits of this initial exploration. 2015 . Yet in important ways this fundamental definition of childhood has been nuanced through the development of a variety of theories of childhood. and the sources for retrieving children's experience seem either nonexistent or at least relatively difficult to recover. In this view. I can do little more than suggest lines for further investigation. First. The subject of children and their experience is not a regular dogmatic commonplace. on the contrary. Moreover. what is a child. The intrinsic valuation. not triumphant repristination. though the age of maturity has been defined differently in various cultures and eras.com at Open University on January 6. the child has value because he or she has the potential to become an adult. in one way or another. The Child in Christian Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.5 Does the witness of Christian faith have anything distinctive to contribute to the present discussion in our culture about children? A theologian who wishes to address the question of children faces many of the same initial challenges faced by feminist theologians. defining the nature of the child is a simple and straightforward task: the child is an immature human being who requires protection and nurture by the adult members of the species in order to grow to physical and emotional maturity. the literature on children and childhood has burgeoned. Childhood has generally been assumed to be the state of immaturity. holds that childhood has its own value. "The Meaning of Children Becomes a Focal Point for Scholars.sagepub. For our purposes. For now.4 (January 2000) with an editorial and eleven articles devoted to Christian understandings of children and childhood. and how do our theories on the nature of the child affect our relationships with children? Second. THE NATURE OF THE CHILD On the face of it. a collection of seventeen essays on theological understandings of children from the history of Christian thought. what does Christian hope look like through the eyes of a child? Although these questions by no means exhaust the range of doctrines that need to be rethought. how should we conceive the redemption or reconciliation of children? What does it mean for a child to "be saved"? Finally. the child 4 For an overview of the new academic focus on children in various disciplines see S." The Chronicle of Higher Education 7 (August 1998) A14-16. and M. I hope they will be suggestive of further work that can be done in the area of a children's theology. Downloaded from int. Heller. our attention will focus on three questions. childhood is valuable for the sake of what it will later become. fueled in part by the ongoing debate on public policy regarding our children. Bunge. J. very little is directly helpful for a contemporary theology of childhood. The instrumental view holds that. 2001).162 Interpretation APRIL 2001 In recent years. In other words. 5 Two recent publications begin to redress the neglect: a special number of the journal Theology Today 56. irrespective of later developments. many of our Christian forebears' ideas and practices demand critical exposure.. ed. the field of systematic theology in the twentieth century has been largely silent on the question of children. among the ideas about children that one can retrieve from traditional theological texts.4 But until very recently. I want to contrast two different ways of valuing the state of immaturity: one we shall call an instrumental valuation and the other an intrinsic valuation of childhood.

children are not illusions that must be replaced with had nothing of value to offer to the Jld hard facts of adult reality. says the market discourse. in ired an interest in the actual capabilities of young children.. parents are more than justified in takDownloaded from int.-«. that children not only know less than adults do but also think in an entirely different wav^ redictably. and has both rights and responsibilities that correspond to her worth. they have a dark side: earlier phases of development are taken as relatively less valuable than later phases. For example. and in this realm..com at Open University on January 6. Once again. Jean Piagefs (1896-1980) well-known stage theory of cognitive development hol· . so that the child is seen as an "other" rather than as a fellow human being.g to be filled with the contents of experience and reflection." they can rest assured that adults no longer s1 ire the cognitive deficits of childhood. adults who invest so much into procuring their children. 2015 . such as in vitro fertilization of ova and sperm certified to have come from individuals with extremely high IQ scores. Developmental theories tend to distance adults from children. as the thought of alien "others. Among the theories of childhood that have shaped the modern world. Similarly Lawrence Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development assumes that young children are simply incapable of truly moral actions.Interpretation 163 THE C H I L D has intrinsic worth. While developmental theories have certainly been helpful in identifying age-appropriate forms of instruction and communication. to ever greater measure. adults. While Locke was deeply concerned about appropriate education for children. in reacting against the rigid pedagogy of the seventeenth century. they gain the cognitive abilities that mark the successive stages of development toward adulthood. the young child for the adolescent. In addition. or other pre-moral attitudes. John Locke's (163^-1704) influential epistemologica! theories. it was not so much for their own sake as for the sake of the ^suM^ ^ „ -. the teenager for the adult. Children are primarily seen as products. tended to support a view of c ¡Idren as containers waiting to be filled. many value childhood instrumentally. The insights of childhood relatively empty containers. As products. too. Under this scenario. Perhaps no theoretical discourse is more dominant in our modern consciousness than the discourse of free market capitalism. which viewed the mind as a blank slate wait* . While adults may find children's reasoning quite interesting. virtually design their own offspring. consumers. as children grow older. What looks like moral behavior in children can almost certainly be reduced to imitation.sagepub. guarantee better returns on their risk. if certain forms of conception. the infant is valuable chiefly for the toddler he will become. since they lack the principles in which such actions are grounded. compliance. ^ citizens they would later become. or burdens. have every right to expect a return on that investment. he set later theorists down a >ad that defined childhood in terms of certain "deficits" that are later overcome in adi ìood. children are the coveted possessions of adults who can. While Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). instrumental valuation of childhood seems to be the norm. As childfr d behind.

In a discerning article on attitudes 6 For an excellent discussion of many of the ethical perplexities of the new reproductive technologies. That children as consumers are not valued intrinsically should be clear enough from the fact that many companies do not hesitate to market to children products that are known to be dangerous and harmful for them.164 Interpretation APRIL 2 0 0 1 ing advantage of them. they are simply lacking in any positive value from a market perspective. The "value" of children for the many businesses that court them is not their intrin­ sic value as unique and vulnerable human beings but their ability to consume products. It ceases to hold value for its own sake but is valued only as a "necessary prologue" to utilitarian adulthood. D. that is for the sake of the brilliant. see T. "Children: An Undeveloped Theme in Catholic Teaching. Jonathan Kozol laments the dominance of market metaphors in our estimation of childhood: The problem is not only that low-income children are devalued by these mercantile criteria. RSV). Ryan and T. Whitmore and T. whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:14-15. ed. Α. Whitmore (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press. even if they themselves neither earn the money nor strictly control the accounts in which it is held. If the child has a right to sufficient protection.sagepub. children are the focus of relentless and seductive marketing strategies. The value of the child is the value she will have for the eager parents who see her as theirs—almost as their property.6 As consumers." in The Challenge of Global Stewardship: Roman Catholic Responses. childhood itself is also redefined. children (especially infants and poor children) are seen as a weight on the economy—as non-producers and indirect consumers who nonetheless require costly care. twelve. see T. nur­ ture. 1997) 161-85. orfifteenyears of life are excavated of inherent moral worth in order to accommodate a regimen of basic training for the adult years that many of the poorest children may not even live to know. For the Love of Children: Genetic Technology and the Future of the Family (Louisville: Westminster John Knox. Jesus not only welcomes children but sets them up as models to be emulated. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope (New York: Crown Publishers. Thefirstten. increase sales. according to Jesus. There is no reference to investing in the present—in the childhood of children—only in a later incarnation of the child as a "product" or "producer. 2000) 139. Μ. Peters. As such. and thereby contribute to the profitability of the corporation."7 What a striking contrast to our modern theories and discourses of childhood words of Jesus: "Let the children come to me. is not for the sake of something else but simply for what they are in themselves as children: that is. Winwright. As burdens. Truly I say to you. for to such belongs the kingdom of God. beautiful. The value of these children. Kozol. Jesus holds childhood as intrinsically valuable. 7 J. or successful adult that she will become. 1996). the rights or intrinsic value of that person seem strangely absent from the discussion. Here.com at Open University on January 6. providing a profitable return on her parents' investment. do not hinder them. Children are valued as key players in determining how household income will be spent. D. 2015 . and education. Although presumably all who are involved in the big business of producing babies for discriminating investors recognize that the product in this case is a unique human being. Downloaded from int. On the influence of the discourse of free market capitalism on views of children.

Preoccupation with play might lead to irresponsibility. As vulnerable and dependent ones. First.com at Open University on January 6. Fourth. ed. Children also exemplify the right way of receiving God's reign in their attitude of trusting dependence. by contrast.8 In each of these emphases of Jesus' teaching on children. they are lacking in social status: they bring nothing and simply depend on the goodness of God to uphold them. is that children play and adults practice. children actually represent Jesus. J. Jesus identifies children as primary objects of care and service by his disciples. The spiritual insight of children does not rest on their education but on their openness to being vehicles for divine revelation.Interpretation 165 THE C H I L D toward children in the New Testament. M. Schleiermacher argued that childhood and adulthood were best understood not as successive phases of human development but as distinct spiritual perspectives that could coexist in any human being at the same time. While it would be wrong to allow children never to grow into the task of developing their skills through practice. What counts is not what the child will be but what he is right now. along with the poor and the oppressed. Jesus provocatively reverses instrumental reasoning. "The Least and the Greatest: Children in the New Testament. Second. The difference between adults and children. Judith Gundry-Volf argues that Jesus' identification with children includes at least four distinct emphases. but preoccupation with practice can make a person rigid and closed off from fresh insights that arise as one actually experiences life in the moment. should not mean leaving childhood behind. he said. then. The insights of childhood are not illusions that must be replaced with the cold hard facts of adult reality. and even representatives of himself. without regard to future outcomes. Practice. it is also wrong to become so preoccupied with correcting past mistakes in the interest of future performance that one can no longer be present in the moment. 2015 . for God reveals to infants what is hidden from the learned. Third. But it is wrong when either side exclusively takes over in any stage of human life. children should be served with humility by anyone who is seeking to be great in the reign of God. we would expect that young humans would tend more naturally to the child's perspective and older humans to the adult's. M. it is clear that the child's value is not instrumental but intrinsic. children are identified as co-recipients and model entrants into the reign of God. Gundry-Volf. Bunge. Growing up. They are receivers of God's reign primarily because." in The Child in Christian Thought.sagepub. so that those who receive children gladly also receive Jesus and God. 29-60. Downloaded from int. By holding up children as models for adult faith. possessors of spiritual insight. Schleiermacher found it particularly fascinating that Jesus claimed that the disciples 8 J. It was precisely this emphasis on the child's being in the present moment that struck Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) about Jesus' identification with children. Of course. children are those who have true insight into spiritual things. is the arduous repetition and development of skills for the purpose of mastery and perfect execution of some future production or artifact. Play is an activity that is done for its own sake. for the present enjoyment of the activity.

406-45 "See the discussion m J M Gundry-Volf." in The Child in Christian Thought. Christians seek to perfect the gift of being made children of God. "The Least and the Greatest. is intrinsically valuable as the spiritual perspective most easily able to draw us into fellowship with God. " 'Infinite Openness to the Infinite' Karl Rahner's Contribution to Modern Catholic Thought on the Child. not every part of the New Testament view of children presents the radical reversal of instrumental reasoning we can discover in the teaching of Jesus.com at Open University on January 6. Although. then. see D DeVnes» "Be Converted and Become as Little Children Friedrich Schleiermacher on the Spiritual Significance of Childhood. It is for this reason. he maintained. and receptivity of the child as the essence of true saving relationship with God. children grow so as to become adults. and their worth is more natural entrée into this experienee than the typical adult. is just such a being with God in Christ in the present. In particular. 329-49 10 For more on Rahner's views. trust. Schleiermacher focused not on the humility of children but on their ability to be in the moment and open to whatever reveals itself to their senses. Childhood.10 Of course.11 These teachings are not entirely consistent with Jesus' view of children and have perhaps 9 For a fuller discussion of Schleiermacher's views. The Child in Christian Thought. The promise of eternal life. he argued. for they realize they have nothing to offer God.9 Karl Rahner (1904-1984) also argued that childhood is not a stage to be superseded and hence valuable for what it contributes to something else. Adults grow in sanctification through their care of children. 2015 . then. ed. but that they expect everything from God. see M A Hinsdale. Without this gift. it is not an accident that become in the future. For this not to bereducedto what they will reason. I c M d r e n md a d u k s are m a d e t o b e together in communal life." 53-59 Downloaded from int.166 Interpretation APRIL 2001 had to change or "convert" to be like little children (Matt 18:1-5). Rahner argued. Christ opens us to the eternal n o w a n d Children are not simply small and I > children have a deficient adults. At the same time. that Jesus identified with children. Not that they are perfect or sinless. Not surprisingly. without regard to past or future. A child is open to others based on a natural need to accept vulnerability and dependence and to trust others to provide. biologically. many adults would become so jaded and cynical that they would be incapable of receiving the gift of reconciliation that Christ has to offer them. the household codes of Ephesians and Colossians and the few insights on child rearing in the Pastoral epistles present children as subordinate members of the household of faith who must be disciplined and instructed in the faith by their superiors—especially by fathers. Christians should seek to cultivate the openness. As adults. whose complete dependence upon them challenges them to live for others.sagepub. Perhaps reading his own understanding of children and childhood into the text." in Bunge. children are also open and carefree in their relationship to God: they have no pretensions. children within a community give a gift to adults: they draw them back into the spiritual perspective of the child. The "infinite openness" of childhood is the promise of the eschatological future that is the gift of God.

If the reign of God belongs to children. . defective. Children are not simply small and deficient adults. no matter what questions they may raise. with a theory of moral development that says our children. 2015 ."12 If we take Jesus' teaching about children seriously. subordinate members of the community of faith. surely we have something to learn from them. Can we really comfort ourselves as adults. they do not ordinarily think about the web of addiction. for that reason. Even more. Mass. in their simple directness. for that reason. they should be eager to see through the eyes of children the experiences of God they have had. Any developmental theory that rules out. as innocent and uninformed people who cannot understand the full complexity of the moral problems that plague us? Matthews concludes that "such condescension is unwarranted . and spiritual immaturity render them objects of adult discipline but not bearers of spiritual insight or models of faith.Interpretation 167 THE C H I L D exercised a greater influence on the history of Christian thinking about children than Jesus' own instruction. Downloaded from int. often bring us back to basics. The child's perception of reality is valuable and provides a necessary corrective to the more measured perceptions of adulthood. moral turpitude. Christians should resist any theories of childhood that make the life of the young child seem fleeting and unimportant.com at Open University on January 6.sagepub. then. When children see homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes on sidewalks. Children have been seen as weaker. The time has come for theology to recover the resources in both Bible and tradition for a fully intrinsic valuation of childhood. it is also morally offensive. morally. are "pre-moral"? Can we condescend to our children. This perspective is quite contrary to the dominant cultural theories and discourses of childhood and. A SOTERIOLOGY FOR CHILDREN The doctrines that fall under the rubric of soteriology. and to receive children and their perspectives is to receive Jesus. on purely theoretical grounds. whose physical. Gareth Matthews has argued that Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development does not do justice to the sometimes arresting ability of children to prick the moral conscience of adults. . Children are by nature trusting. such as justification and sancti- 12 G. God reveals to the simple what is hidden from the learned. even the possibility that we adults may occasionally have something to learn. and open to the wonders of life. failed social policies. 1994) 66-67. and their worth is not to be reduced to what they will become in the future. Children also see things simply—without the complicating obfuscations that so often reduce adults to passivity. and other aspects of the "big picture" that so often prevent adults from responding with help and compassion to a human being in need. it has transformative potential. B. [because] children. emotional.: Harvard University Press. Matthews. The Philosophy of Childhood (Cambridge. we have many reasons to agree with the arguments of Matthews. from a child is. curious.

. . and class. that drive them to recognize the role of God in their lives? Of course not. and the meaning of life. no ultimate concerns. the question was. living in one of the roughest parts of the Bronx. take their starting point from the felt needs of the sinful adult human being. and yet throughout these books. the question that the doctrine of salvation seeks to answer has shifted somewhat. The new home. snatch children away. People walk the streets like they're Downloaded from int. Memoirs of childhood written by adults cannot be assumed to represent the child's perspective—even when the authors feel relatively unalienated from their childhoods. Few children can really understand the problems for which grace and faith offer an answer. And when we go in search of documentary evidence of children's experience. in the middle of a druginfested block in South Bronx.168 Interpretation APRIL 2001 fìcation. [t]he drug dealers . A young girl remembers with nostalgia the apartment she and her family had in Harlem. it is clear that both kinds represent the questions of adults. or are there ways to contextualize our theology. The children he writes about in these powerful books are not middle class or white. when we examine these questions more closely. not only with regard to gender. has no place for her to play. . Does this mean that children have no existential questions. Kozol is able to show us just how ordinary these little children are. but also with regard to age? What are the problems from which children look to God for salvation? Children's experience. but poor minority children. is diverse. One theme that comes up repeatedly is the need for safe space.com at Open University on January 6. few young children regularly wrestle with these questions. in spite of the extraordinary challenges they encounter day by day. race. "There's no such thing as safe around here This here is a burial ground.sagepub. 2015 . While teenagers may begin to pose questions about guilt. and it cannot be reduced to a single monolithic account. black and Hispanic. . One might object that their concerns are not typical. of course." Her father adds. Must theology offer one-size-fits-all doctrine. because when she lived there she could ride her bike in Central Park. forgiveness. I have combed Jonathan Kozol's books Amazing Grace and Ordinary Resurrections for the words of children themselves that would give some clues about their existential concerns. As an experiment in showing the fruitfulness of reincorporating children's experience into the sources for contemporary theology. it is sometimes hard to come by. "It's too dangerous to go outside . "How can I find a gracious God? How can I be sure that my sins are forgiven?" In more recent times. "Is there a God? How can I be sure that life has meaning and is worth living?" But interestingly. Now many people ask instead. For Martin Luther. Much of the repertoire of classical Protestant theology on the question of salvation is written for the presumptive adult. But for now I want to put aside the question of whether or not their narratives are representative and simply ask what they can tell us about the meaning of "salvation" for a child. We must simply listen to our children to discover their own distinctive questions and existential struggles.

1995) 198. When prompted to describe what "plagues" were present in his own neighborhood. "Sadness is one plague today. Sometimes he goes without food. Kozol ends Amazing Grace with a memorial testimony to 23 children and youth from the neighborhood who died violent deaths during the time he was researching and writing the book. children. God needs to "push it harder. and a hopeful disposition.Interpretation 169 THE C H I L D already dead. To be saved is to be 13 J. Kozol reveals that the child sometimes has nothing more than cold oatmeal with milk for supper at night. Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (New York: Crown Books. he turns to the pastor of the church to give him extra food. 15 16 Downloaded from int. 217-18." she claims. 84. both physical and spiritual.com at Open University on January 6. and they understand that faith.. Kozol. sufficient nurture.sagepub. hope. One young girl suggests that it is God's heart that pumps love into the world. and hope—can only be met through not create safe fortresses for their the transformation of community. 72-74.. Ordinary Resurrections. and love are gifts from God. but the one who gets it does not have to be the firstborn. it is not so much a matter of discovering the worth of existence. A second central theme that reappears is the need for sufficient food."13 Children who live with daily anxiety about their physical safety are alienated from the careless play that should characterize the stage of early childhood.16 The child's-eye view of salvation defines wholeness as the conditions that make for human flourishing. Ibid. Yet even well-meaning parents forced by race and economic circumstances to live The needs of the individual child—for safety. Ann's of Morrisania Episcopal church that Kozol writes about is the regular feeding of supper to school-age children. one young boy responds. Other times. and so her prayers are encouragements to God to keep trying. Salvation is not so much a matter of overcoming sinful pride and the alienation of a guilty conscience as it is coming to rest in the goodness of divine providence. In an interchange with a young boy who has confessed the sin of stealing food. these children look ultimately to God to fulfill their needs. as it is securing the sustaining elements of a life that is already deemed good. But the children are not only focused on material needs. 2015 . Children who cannot take for granted their ability to secure regular meals do worry about food. It is no wonder the children worry about their safety."15 The children of Mott Haven see the hopelessness of the adults around them. 14 Ibid. Desperate would be a plague. It can be the second son. out their lives in urban ghettos cannurture. It could be the youngest. and that all of her neighbors need more of this love. Drugs are a plague also.14 One of the main programs at St. Although the adults in their lives seek to provide safe haven.

he read the "signs of the times" against the backdrop of Cold War politics in America. they would be utterly alone. He had seen before how the drug dealers hid packets of the white powder in both hands and then asked someone to choose one hand. and lost opportunity for repentance are spun from adult imaginations. this young boy understands despair and the drug culture as a manifestation of sin and evil that God can overcome. I remember being so frightened by his words and images that I did not sleep well for months afterwards. and it should not be surprising that the Christian doctrine of last things has always gripped youthful imaginations. tells of the adventures of those who have been "left behind" after Christ's first return to remove believers from the earth before the trials of the last times. they would be tormented by monsters. and hope—can only be met through the transformation of community. Jenkins. Ann's church is a proleptic disclosure of what truly redeemed community will look like: children can work and play there in safety. the "Left Behind Series" written by Tim E LaHaye and Jerry B. divine abandonment. What is striking about the vision of salvation one can glean from the witness of these children is that it is fundamentally communitarian. forsaken by their [godly] parents. C. and his conclusion was that the end was coming soon for our miserable planet. Brekus. The grinding poverty and illness that wear down the spirits of the older members of the community lead to a sense of despair." the boy laments. But what then is sin? It seems these children take the spiritual state of hopelessness as a sign of sin or soul-sickness. 2015 . The needs of the individual child—for safety. Hell would be like children's worst nightmares: bad children would "spend eternity in a dark pit. "Children of Wrath. there's powder in it. not individualistic.com at Open University on January 6. One young boy describes how he prayed that his brother would not succumb to the temptation to try cocaine.170 Interpretation APRIL 2001 confident that God will provide the means for survival. imaginations soar and hope abounds. AN ESCHATOLOGY FOR CHILDREN One of the most unfortunate experiences of my own childhood was unwittingly reading Hal Lindsey's best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth. 317. But once again. no one is hungry. A. 219."18 One of the best-selling series of books among youth today. not children's. What does the end that we can expect look like through the eyes of children? 17 Amazing Grace. The great American Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards used horrifying images of hell in his sermons to children in order to scare them into conversion experiences. "Whichever hand you pick. The congregation of St. In great detail. the fantasies of unrelenting torment." The Child in Christian Thought.sagepub. 18 Downloaded from int. nurture. and no matter how much they wept for mercy.17 Whatever the challenges of life in the ghetto. Children are naturally fascinated with beginnings and endings. Children of Grace: Jonathan Edwards and the Puritan Culture of Child Rearing.

The prophets will be there.Interpretation 171 THE CHILD Kozol had no trouble getting the children to share their images of heaven with him. yes. Mr. All the people from the street will be there. there is hate. There will be no guns or drugs or 1RS. He responds to Kozol's ques­ tion. As one young girl puts it: "You can be eight years old and still your work is done God knows when somebody has suffered long enough. not dim and glooming like on earth. All friendly animals will be there. How will you know that you are there? Something will tell you. My uncle will be there and he will be healed. No one will look at you from the outside."20 T h e m o | . 20 21 Downloaded from int. because there won't be money.. 19 It is the place to which God delivers those who have finished their work on earth. God's purpose in their deaths is good. God will be there. You won't see him buying drugs.sagepub. you can use your eyes to see the people that you love.. In heaven there is love. As for television. It is interesting to contrast this hopeful vision of a future reign of God with the projec­ tions of one of the slightly older children in the community. 106. On earth you grow old or else you die in pain. In heaven you are young forever. I believe that this will happen here. Perhaps the most carefully drawn picture was offered by an observant young boy who hopes to be a writer. Here. "This is it! Eureka!" If you still feel lonely in your heart. He will be a writer teaching students. Ibid. "How long would you like to live?" with a provocative answer: "I would like to live to 22 see the human race grow up. he will be there too. God's coming kingdom or heaven is a place of glory. At night he'll come and visit at your house. He takes us to His kingdom. 22 Ibid. She says: Do you ever hear of cities that existed long ago and are extinct today?..com at Open University on January 6. 84.21 Many of the as well as our students and dependents. You won't have to pay taxes. ***Η*Φ& demand is for us to children have formed vivid images of heaven because one or more of their immediate family members live there. as for Edgar Allan Poe. you'll know that you're not there. People will see you from the inside. In heaven there is no sickness. It will be bright. and even though many children in their neighborhood die young. e Heaven is a peaceful place. states one young boy. where accept children as our guides and teachers only the innocent live." Later. You'll recognize all the chil­ dren who have died when they were little. Ibid. Here. but no mean ones. No violence will there be in heaven.. he shares with Kozol a "report" on the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus will be good to them and play with them. When it is enough. 217. 123. and Adam and Eve. or bit­ terness. 2015 . Everyone will get so sick of life in Harlem and the South Bronx that we'll just give up and move to somewhere else. You might see him happy for a change. but not like somebody important. Mongo [a drug addict] will be there too. not of pain. People shall come hand-in-hand. and all of the disciples except Judas. forget it! If you want vision. Hell be happy that we have arrived. God will be fond of you. there is sickness. But it will be the same thing there again until the new place is 19 Amazing Grace. And.

23 The children hope for a future in which God will remove all suffering. Sometimes the complications and subtle distinctions that maturity brings to our perspective do not really clarify but rather blind us to the truth. There is needed wisdom in the child's view of the world. As Judith Gundry-Volf has argued. He made being a disciple dependent on inhabiting this 'small world. although there are also limits. break all addictions. and somewhere else. until the whole world is destroyed and there is nothing to look back on but the ashes. 2015 . their visions of the end do not include fantasies about horrific punishments for the perpetrators. "The Least and the Greatest. on the contrary. however. but so that they might receive what is properly theirs—the reign of God. Advocacy on behalf of children and concern with their proper nurture and education. remember all lives that have been cut short. The future holds release from relentless violence and from the voyeurism that infects our minds and hearts in this media culture. In order to lay claim to Jesus' teaching in its most radical potential.sagepub. There is generous forgiveness available for the restoration of those who have sinned. this future only comes after the fiery destruction of the present world through the desperation of the poor. But the landscape cannot help but be changed if the churches reclaim the radical message of Jesus' teaching about children. The future is one in which people are known from the inside out and yet are accepted and loved just the same. they hope for a renewed community in which every individual takes his or her place. Judas and the worst drug lord in the neighborhood are beyond redemption. For the older child. Jesus is the divine playmate. CONCLUSION The current cultural and political struggles over children will continue. 42. heal all illnesses. The child sees things simply—sometimes disarmingly so—and is prepared to speak straightforwardly about what she sees. however. vindicating the right of all children to play. 24 Downloaded from int. in spite of the fact that many of the children have witnessed incredible scenes of violence and abuse. is only part of that message.172 Interpretation APRIL 2 0 0 1 so sad and ugly it's destroyed and then we'll move again to somewhere else.' He invited the children to come to him not so that he might initiate them into the adult realm.. churches must resist the instrumental valuation of childhood that has dominated contemporary discus- 23 Ibid. The more challenging demand is for us to accept children as our guides and teachers as well as our students and dependents. "He cast judgment on the adult world because it is not the child's world. The future that the children imagine is not one in which individuals receive their private rewards or punishments. And yet. Jesus' teaching about children boldly reverses the values of this world." 60.com at Open University on January 6. The worst sinners simply disappear from a future to which they cannot be habilitated."24 Perhaps it is only through the eyes of children that we can truly imagine what the divine reign will be.

The church can model a different set of values by listening carefully to the voices of children. protection. Nor should we condescend to children themselves as second-class citizens in the household of faith. Ministry with children and youth should not be seen as second-class work for those who are not up to the really important jobs in the church.sagepub. While children certainly need the nurture.Interpretation 173 THE CHILD sions.com at Open University on January 6. and by incorporating their insights into our understanding of Christian faith. at the same time they deserve our full respect. and service of adults. Only as we ourselves change and become like little children will we begin to know the promised wholeness of God's future. Downloaded from int. 2015 .