I watched with interest on Tuesday Night as Treasurer Wayne Swan handed down his budget. One of our governments major ‘structural saves’ as they are now called was to downsize the ‘Baby Bonus.’ The bonus for first children will now be $2,000 instead of $5,000. Aside from embarassingly exposing my own self-interest (one of my first thoughts was ‘Ahh it doesn’t matter we’ve had our children ...’), the change got me thinking about the language we use to talk about children.
It seems to me that just about everything we speak of these days is measured by it’s impact on ‘the economy,’ children included. Of course this is especially true on budget night but I’m sure you’d agree that just about every government proposal we hear about these days is measured primarily in ‘economic terms.’ It’s impact on ‘the ecomomy’ is our major concern. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-capitalism. After all, history says that the free market economy we are a part of can trace it’s foundations to John Calvin’s Geneva. Not only did Calvin preserve the doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ but he also, many argue, laid key foundations for how our free market ecomony operates in the Modern West. Though that’s a story for another day! My point here is to ask ... is there a danger in thinking about children and the having of them using ‘economic terms’?
When talking about the birth of children what’s the best word to use? Bioethicist Leon Kass underlines the importance of this point when he writes: “Consider the views of life and the world reflected in the follow- ing different expressions to describe the process of generating new life. Ancient Israel, impressed with the phenomenon of the transmission of life from father to son, used a word we translate as “begetting” or “sir- ing” [meaning creating the same moral value as the begetter]. The Greeks, impressed with the springing forth of new life ... called it genesis, from a root meaning “to come into being” ... The premodern Christian English-speaking world, impressed with the world as given by a Creator, used the term “pro-creation”. We, impressed with the machine and the gross national product (our own work of creation), emply the metaphor of the factory, “re-production”.
The language we use says a lot about how as a society with view our little ones. Of course there are very real ‘economic’ realities to having children which all parents and would be parents no doubt realise. As a single income family we are certainly very thankful for the assistance we receive from both our church family (who pay my salary) and from the government. The generosity of God through our church and the various family tax benefits we receive enables us to do what we do. Yet, although having our children involves very real economic considerations - viewing our children through the lense of ‘the economy’ is never how the bible encourages us to imagine them. Babies are always a bonus whether they come with an economic bonus or not! Our children are a ‘gift’ not a ‘commodity.’ We don’t produce them they are given to us.
The bible teaches us that each child conceived is uniquely made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:26-27). When they are born we have another person to share together with in the privilege of ruling God’s world under Him (Gen 1:28). It is God’s ‘eyes [who] saw my unformed substance’. It is from the moment of fertilization another human has come into being whose days ‘every one of them in [God’s] book has been written’ (Psalm 139:16). God has planned the lives of our children even before we even know they are there.
In our culture the reasons many give to have children usually include things like: to continue the family line; to look after us when we are old; for self-fulfillment; as a physical representation of your “one-flesh”; to help in the family business.
It’s true that the desire to have children is very strong for many of us, and it is often terribly painful for those who are unable to fulfil that good desire. Yet, as Megan Best says in her fantastic book, our reasons for welcoming children are different.
“Christians see child-bearing not as a way to find self-fulfillment so much as to raise up “Godly offspring” (Mal 2:15). A new generation must learn how to exert responsible dominion over the creation, and while we are waiting for Christ to return we are called to proclaim the gospel. [...] The Bible does not suggest we possess our children, but we receive them as a gift ”
“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 127:3
It’s why as followers of Jesus we often welcome children when ‘economically’ it just doesn’t make sense. It’s why we stick up for their ‘rights’ and not only the ‘rights’ of those who exercise influence over their very existence. It’s because our little ones are part of the ‘creation’ not the ‘economy.’ We don’t welcome children into the world for our sake but for their sake so that we can serve God together in His world.
-- Luther Symons