Of all the strange activities we human beings choose to engage in, raising children is surely at the top of the list. Why would we submit ourselves to this? Stop and ponder it for a moment. Really, on the surface, it makes little sense.
To begin with, I don’t need to remind you ladies that you’re looking at a 40-week gestation period, complete with some very unwelcome changes to your bodies in the process. And, after the birth—which is an ordeal of its own—it’s not like you can set the child loose into the wild after a few weeks to find its own food and shelter. Our human offspring are basically useless not for weeks or months, but years. We have to tote them around, feed them, protect them, clean up their messes, and teach them everything. It takes several years before we can even leave them home alone, without fear of them drinking Drano or licking electrical sockets.
Willingly choosing to conceive, birth, and raise a child to adulthood, entails sacrificing 25-30% of our own lives for the sake of another person. In a median-income American family, it will also cost us over $200,000. Granted, over time, these little humans may begin to help us out in small ways. And, yes, as adults they may help us even more as we advance in age. But, objectively speaking, if we’re working with a mere Cost-Benefit Analysis, raising children has no utilitarian value. The services they may provide later are not worth the tremendous physical, emotional, psychological, and financial cost up front.
So why do most of us do it? Why, as creatures endowed with reason and at least a modicum of common sense, as those who make decisions every day that center around the question, “What’s in it for me?”—why in the world would so many of us choose to bring children into this world?
I think the answer is fairly obvious: because we are created in the image and likeness of the God who did, and still does, the same.
We Have No Utilitarian Value to God
Most of us are familiar with the verse in the opening chapter of the Bible in which we are said to be created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). But we might not be as familiar with a similar verse five chapters later in which we read that Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image,” (Gen. 5:3). Now isn’t that an intriguing parallel? Adam, who was created in God’s image, now fathers a son in his own image. A creature imitating his Creator. An earthly son following in the path of his heavenly Father.
But here’s something incredibly important, but easily missed: just as God didn’t create us as his children for utilitarian purposes, but out of love, so we conceive and raise children not to get something out of them, not for purposes of utility, but to give our love and our very selves to them. Yes, we do this imperfectly because we are terribly flawed creatures. But, in our bumbling but nevertheless godlike way, we do it anyway.
Because of this, our very lives as parents and children implicitly proclaim this higher and lovely truth: we have no value to God based upon our usefulness.
Think about it. I’ve never heard a mom or dad say, “The only reason I have children is to get something out of them.” If that’s true of earthly parents, it’s far truer of our heavenly Parent. We have no utility to him. He didn’t need us for something. The Almighty didn’t do a Cost-Benefit Analysis before he formed us. We are not some sort of tool or machine for the Creator to use. As Alan Noble recently wrote, “Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with.”
That is great news! Why did God create us? Out of sheer love. Because he’s a prodigal divinity. He empties out his pockets every chance he gets to give away all he has, belly-laughing the whole while as his gratuitousness shocks all our quid-pro-quo sensitivities.
And if that’s great news, just try and fathom how great this related news is. After we utterly wrecked the world, graffitied the shrine of the cosmos, burned the house down, bulldozed everything righteous, and basically turned the cosmos into one gargantuan dumpster fire—even after all this, our Father didn’t wash his hands of us. He used those hands to bring us home and make us right again. He who made us in his image and likeness took on that image and likeness himself.
God’s Heart Trumps His Eyes
The one who fashioned Adam became a tiny Adam himself. But, no surprise, we were no more kind to him as our fellow human on earth than we were kind to him as our God in heaven. We mocked him as mad; claimed he was demon-possessed; followed him when he fed us soft bread but abandoned him when he fed us hard truths; and, finally, we lied and perjured so we could orchestrate his state-sponsored murder. Yes, we were of no more use to him as a man—quite the opposite!—than we’d been of use to him before he became one of us.
But, as with creation, so with our redemption, Jesus did not come down from heaven to restore us to the Father with the goal of getting something out of us. No. He sacrificed all this because that’s just who he is. He is Love. And divine love doesn’t ask utilitarian questions. Love doesn’t ask, “Is he/she/they worth it?” Of course we’re not worth it! That’s the whole point. If we were, that would mean grace is no longer grace but a monster called merit.
What is amazing about all the activities of God on our behalf is that, at no point does the Lord first look to us to find something in us to justify what he is about to do. He didn’t gaze into the future, see a world populated with human being, and say to himself, “Yeah, okay, let’s do this. I see that humanity will be worth the effort.” Nor, before he redeemed us, did he look down to earth and say to himself, “Well, I do see lots of good and nice citizens in the world who will be worthy of me dying to save them.” No, before he even looked, he loved.
God’s heart always trumps his eyes.
Finally, that means that no matter who you are, no matter whether you’ve done great things or little things, whether you think you’ve done well in life or if you often feel like you’re just a waste of blood and tissue, you are the beloved of God. Period. Full stop.
Cost-Benefit analyses mean nothing to Christ. You mean everything to him. You are his child.
I began this short reflection by asking why, given all the sacrifices we have to make as parents, would we choose to have children? On a much grander scale, we might ask why, given all the sacrifices that God had to make to create and redeem us as his children, did he do it?
Now we know.
So the next time you smile as you look into the face of your child, and think of the lengths to which you have, and would go, to help them, realize that you just experienced a fleeting and fragmentary feeling of the love for you that has pulsed, with oceanic magnitude, through the heart of our Father from everlasting to everlasting.