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The Cruelty of Comforting Children on their Way to Hell

October 14, 2009

As our adoption has moved forward over the past months Devon and I have been working to better aquatint ourselves with the people of Ethiopia. We have been working to learn their history, their culture, and most immediately the massive blighting of the population that began in the 1970s through a combination of political power struggles, crop failures, and the spread of vicious diseases like malaria and HIV. The need in this one country, let alone the entire African continent, is staggering. And when this need has a face, it is the face of a child. Ethiopia’s children are being orphaned at an astonishing rate. Those who have a parent remaining in the home still suffer the brunt of the depravations and hardships that come with growing up lacking even rudimentary health care, education, or adequate food supply.

The crushing weight of the statistics coming out of Ethiopia is offset somewhat by the stories of self-sacrifice and open-hearted care that are chronicled in books like Melissa Fay Greene’s There is No Me without You. Thankfully, the plight of these children is not being overlooked by many foreigners and many more locals who are re-arranging their life in order to minister to the children dropped off at police stations, left in baskets in front of orphanages, or wandering the streets after AIDS claimed their remaining parent.

As I have read the stories of these care-givers, however, my initial gratitude and admiration has turned toward something like frustration and an urgent sorrow. It is not primarily frustration at the relatively small number of people who are willing to “ruin” their lives to care for these children. It is not primarily frustration at the power brokers who did much to cause this suffering by refusing to admit a famine or refusing to make pharmaceuticals available at a decent price. It is sorrow over the fact that so few of these care-givers know God in Christ and work to make Him known to their children. And it is frustration over the fact that the vast majority of these care-givers are therefore caught up in the cruelty of comforting these children on their way to hell.

That may seem like too harsh a verdict at first glance. The humanism of our culture has trained us to argue reflexively that there must be something inherently beautiful and unassailably worthy about forsaking a middle class life to love on 40 kids who would have otherwise died in the rags they wore when they were dropped off! And in a sense that is true. I have no doubt the Father heart of God is moving many to love on the very children a society paralyzed by misunderstandings about AIDS and how it spreads has declared unlovable. Taking orphans into your home and spending yourself on their behalf is in line with the gospel! But it is not the gospel! On its own it is not enough. If life ends at death, then anything we can do to introduce comfort and ease and joy into the lives of these children is unquestionably the highest good. However, if after death we all rise to an eternity either in His joy or under His wrath depending on what we do with Christ in this life, then providing diapers and formula and toys and mattresses and moms and dads while withholding Jesus is unbelievably, even if unintentionally, cruel. To care for their bodies without caring equally and ultimately for their soul, is not to love them at all. This is the urgency I feel in my sorrow. An urgency to pray for those who are wrapping their arms around the lives of these children, but who are not yet able to introduce them to the One who is their Life! Think of what could happen in these orphanages and on these streets if these precious caregivers were introduced to Jesus and ministered His life to their children!

Jesus came the first time to set us free from our fatal bondage to sin. This is love, that He delivered us from sin, not necessarily from sickness. It is true that during His earthly ministry he did heal some bodies. But those healings where meant to stand as a foreshadowing of what life would be like with Him forever in His Father’s house. Then, every body will be made whole, every tear will be wiped away, and joy will fill every heart. Now, the healings are unto holiness (John 5:1-18)! Jesus manifests God’s great love for us not by setting us free from sickness now, but by delivering us from sin now and from sickness later! For us to participate with Him in His “healing” work means laying down our lives to see orphans and all others delivered from the power of sin even more intently than we lay down our lives to see them delivered from the grip of sickness and suffering. Working alongside Jesus means working to alleviate eternal suffering with as great an energy as we work to alleviate temporal suffering.

May we increasingly be a people who embrace great pain (like adoption, like summers in an orphanage, like a life among the street children) to care for the little ones that Jesus loves. May the love of Christ compel us to use our time and talents in finding new and creative ways to meet their very real, physical, and persistent needs. But may we never get caught up in the cruelty of comforting children on their way to hell. May we never labor only to alleviate statistics, but always to introduce them to their Savior! This is love, and without this, there is no true love.

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