You don’t have to work with survivors long to realize the devastating effect of other’s sin on children. In many ways, they are the most vulnerable, helpless, weak victims of violence and abuse because they don’t have a voice and they can’t fight back.
Much like sheep, who have no defense against predators, no ability to feed or water themselves, no resources to band together and protect themselves, children left on their own are at risk. Without proper care and protection, they suffer. (I birthed many lambs, played nursemaid and shepherd at all hours of the night for years. They are as helpless as you imagine.)
Jesus was clear about the value of children. And He gave those with power and resources responsibility to care for and protect the weak and vulnerable. Matthew 25 speaks of needy adults: those who are hungry, thirsty, alone, naked, sick and in prison. Children are people, eternal souls, with greater needs.
Yet in homes with domestic violence, 50% of children are sexually and physically abused. America loses 5 children a day to abuse and neglect. Our churches, to our shame, are not exempt. The homes in our churches are not exempt. We must be watchful. Approachable. Trustworthy. Actively engaging the evil in our world with good, by the grace of God.
Jesus saw children (!) and placed great value on them.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him among them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.’“(Matthew 18:1-6)
God requires the humility of a child. Receiving a child in His name is equal to receiving Jesus Himself. Causing a little one to sin has immense consequences; consequences so severe that Jesus says it would be better to permanently remove part of one’s body than continue sinning against them. Based on the context, this is not figurative. Jesus is speaking truth.
When He says, “It would be better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea” if he “causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin,”–He is speaking literally. Whether the sin comes in the form of demeaning, sinful words, a thoughtless slap, physical restraint, neglect, or sexual exploitation, there is a cost for those who cause little ones to sin.
When the acts and effects of sin against children are realized and revealed–years, decades–later, removing a body part from a predator is the least of his worries. If only he had. What a small price when we understand the cost of sin against little ones. Innocent ones. Defenseless, unprotected ones. People. Not “children.” People. People Jesus died to save. Lived to save. Suffered to save. And yet, they are treated like a candy bar, a bottle of Pepsi; consumable and dispensable.
Jesus goes on to say, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones; for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10). I’m not smart enough to understand this, but Jesus gives the impression that while one individual is hurting a child–inflicting pain to a little body, crushing their spirit, damaging their soul–an angel in Heaven looks at the face of the Almighty Father. That act is not unseen or unnoticed. God the Father sees the face of the angel who watches over that little life. Seen or unseen on earth; noticed or unnoticed, there will be an accounting. And, as Warren Lamb says, “Their exit interview will not go well.”
Perhaps the most chilling for anyone who has, does, or will inflict injury on a child for his own benefit are these words of Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it [to] one of the least of these …. you did it [to] Me.” To those who stand by and do nothing, harbor such sin, or turn a deaf ear, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for Me, either.” (Matthew 18: 40, 46)
Paul later addresses this in his letter to the Thessalonians, when he writes, let “no one violate the rights and take advantage of his brother or sister in the matter [of lustful passion] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we told you previously and solemnly warned you… Therefore, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:6, 8)
People are affected–not just in that moment, and not just the victim. While there is room for grace and forgiveness, have enough courage and courtesy to sit in the muck and mire, feel the oppression, destruction, and despair, wrestle with the reality of sin and lay in this coffin a while. I invite you to come in and rest a spell. Then–when you’ve felt the weight of the decades of pain and loss–we can talk about hope for the other side.