Nothing grieves the heart more than the suffering of children. Most parents will tell you that if they could take on the suffering of their child they would. I had a friend who once prayed that the illness of his son be transferred to him instead – a prayer which was, astoundingly, answered almost instantly.
In a week that has, one again, seen the needless death and suffering of many children – 63 killed in Gaza and 2 in Israel as well as hundreds deliberately maimed and injured – it takes a very heart heart not to be moved with anger and revulsion. Yet on social media I have seen many ‘I support Israel’ comments from people who call themselvs ‘Christian’ – but not one comment of concern or regret in relation to the dead and injured children of Gaza. The truth is, it appears to me, that there is a section of the ‘Christian’ community who have all but dehumanised the children of Gaza and show no compassion for them whatsoever. Chillingly, this is exactly what German National Socialism did to Jewish children (and adults) in another generation.
A Christianity that can behave like this has certainly lost touch with the heart, mercy, and grace of its founder. My true fear is that it has, in fact, become the enemy of the Compassionate Christ.
Interestingly, Christianity did not exist in the time of Jesus! Today of course there is a debate as to how one becomes a ‘Christian’, ostensibly the name now given to those who follow the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Some believe they are ‘Christian’ by dint of being born in a ‘Christian country’ or in to a ‘Christian home’. Others say one must ‘receive Jesus into ones hearts’ (whatever that means), or that one must be ‘born again’ (another enigmatic term), while yet others claim we must join such and such a church – or be baptised into a certain denomination or grouping.
The way to be a follower of Jesus, is, according to his own words and teaching to enter the Kingdom of God/Heaven. But how is this achieved? Rather than use a theological formula Jesus used a simple action to illustrate –
‘Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’
Matthew 8 (NLT)
Of course there is a world of meaning here – but in essence the truth is we cannot enter the Kingdom of God (become a Christian?) without first becoming childlike. And then, in childlike humility, turn from our own path (repentance) and with our hand in the hand of Jesus – walk as he waked, live as he lived, forgive as he forgave, love as he loved – and be compassionate as he is compassionate. But becoming childlike is the key as Jesus clearly illustrates.
Children then, all children, are of inestimable value, of unfathomable worth to the God who created them. They are, in their childlikeness, the epitome of what it is to be like God himself. No other inference can be drawn from Jesus teaching here.
The Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, said this past week – ‘If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza’. It is a hell, I believe, where the Jesus of Palestine kneels amidst the dust of falling buildings with his arms held tightly round a dying child as the bombs and rockets, cheered on by many ‘Evangelical Christians’, fall all around. And I am not being over dramatic here – believe me.
What an awful shame on those of us who call ourselves ‘Christian’! What a disgrace when the compassionate voice of others, far from the fold of ‘Christianity’, shout so loudly about injustice when we remain, at worst complicit, at best silent. I truly wonder – do we really have any concept of what it means to live as a child of The Father within The Kingdom of God and under His reign of love and compassion? Perhaps it is we that are in need of repentance and forgiveness. Perhaps it is we that, given the evidence of our lack of compassion and our heartlessness, are, in reality, living outside the Kingdom of God – no matter what we might call ourselves.