As parents know well, kids are mistake-prone. They fall down; they hit things; sometimes, they say the wrong words. And as parents, most of us are perfectly fine with feeling bemused, letting them learn, and letting the event pass.
As Christians, we might well argue, we ought to hold the same kind of view for any child, no matter what. Why is this? Well, for obvious starters, God seems to have a special heart for children. Such might be seen easily in passages like Mark 10:13-16 and its parallels. Jesus expressly forbids people from hindering children to approach him. His stance is major at the time, because in the first century (especially in Roman-held territory), children were seen as little more than an expenditure, a source of family income, a source of completely inappropriate pleasure, or a general nuisance. In other words, we ought to value them not just because God does, but because God values the underappreciated, marginalized, weak, helpless and vulnerable. In fact, if one were to look just a bit further in the passage, Jesus himself addresses the disciples as children (v. 24). The list of passages using such a metaphor could be expanded, but clearly in addition to the reasons above, we value children precisely because our own lives in relation to God are very much as a child to a parent.
This also means how we treat children very closely resembles (or perhaps reveals) our own perceptions of how we are getting along with God.
One instance that I’ll not soon forget is seeing a Christian teacher post, publicly, a grievous mistake that one of her students made in class. This student was perhaps not more than eight or nine years old, as the assignment was based upon the act of spelling simple words. Unfortunately for the child, the spelling mistake was so poor that the sentence ended up communicating a perfectly tame event like a perfectly inappropriate one, especially in regard to being a child. I won’t post the picture, or say what the spelling sheet said, but the sentence would’ve have been accepted as evidence against a parent for abuse if it were freely written by the child without external cause.
Now, apart from those obvious concerns about the apparent confusion this teacher suffers between the legal necessity to report such matters and the personal desire to shame a child, exposing the child’s mistake in the first place seems rather misguided at best. Surely the child had no idea what they’d done; surely the child would never have intended to do such a thing had they known. The question is why the first or at least overriding instinct for a guardian of children is to shame children, let alone why a Christian would want to publicly divulge explicit and inappropriate language.
I can’t answer those questions for that teacher, and I can only hope the child was shielded as much as possible from feeling depressed over something they couldn’t control, but I can take from their interaction the need to evaluate my own ideals and values as to whether or not they match up with mercy and righteousness. How we relate to children matters more than we realize; it reveals our attitude towards helplessness, our approach towards the desire to do what is right, and our own perceptions of God as a parental figure.
P.S., He doesn’t shame us.