Romans 1:18-21 gives us a rather chilling picture of those who suppress the truth of God’s character in what can be seen in creation: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” This is an unpleasant picture and can be used to describe a variety of matters (including the vain struggle of philosophers in the contemporary era ), but today I would like to put this focus into an area that is both familiar and unfamiliar, looking at a characteristic bias of God’s dealings with mankind and pondering what that bias ought to mean for our own perspective and conduct.
There is a marked bias in the Bible that is clear to anyone who investigates it closely, but which has tended to be noticed mainly by only a particularly biased group of liberal Christians who preach what is referred to as the social gospel, and whose characteristic bias is generally to neglect the importance of personal morality. Nevertheless, despite this bias, let us notice and appreciate what they do get right, and that is God’s particular attention to little ones. This attention is consistent throughout all of scripture, and marks a consistent aspect of His character that helps us to frame the way that we live our lives and that we approach others.
One thing we should note is God’s attention to unborn and very small children. Whether we are looking at Jesus’ command to his nonplussed disciplines not to forbid the little ones to come to Him, or His prophecy about the destinies of Esau and Jacob while they were in the womb, or his loving concern for the abandoned child of Israel in one of the more poignant prophecies of Ezekiel, or His statement to Jeremiah that before that prophet was born that God knew him, we see the same phenomenon, and that is God’s specific concern for little ones, concern that leads to His specific involvement in the lives and character of beings even from before their birth. Our understanding of God’s tender concern for little ones ought to lead us to abhor those things that murder or exploit or torment God’s little ones. It is not for nothing that Jesus warns us solemnly that anyone who causes a little one to stumble would be better off to be dropped in the sea with a millstone around one’s neck. This is not a light matter.
I have often wondered if God sees us similar to the way that we look at little ones. Since I was little myself, I have always been greatly intrigued by little beings, by their openness and vulnerability, by their silliness and randomness, and by the way in which they are so observant and watchful of the world around them, trying to understand what to do in light of the examples around them. Unlike many adults, apparently, I have not forgotten what it is like to be little, as I have never been allowed to forget what I felt like when I was small, and perhaps in this life I never shall. At any rate, it has given me a certain amount of empathy for those for whom their time as a little kid is something that they will enjoy or endure as best as they can, largely to be forgotten as they are in a hurry to grow up before their time and leave behind the fragile and doomed innocence of youth without having learned to appreciate it and treasure it first.
Yet God’s interest in little ones is not only when it comes to children (for we are all His little children, after all), but also in little peoples. Over and over again, to Israel’s uncomprehending ears, He speaks through prophets that He did not call Israel because they were a great and mighty people but He called an exploited nation of slaves whose ancestors had been wandering nomads to be His special people, to make them citizens of the greatest city of them all, the New Jerusalem. This is the same promise that He gave to the brethren in the New Testament church, to women who were looked down by the Jewish and Roman and Greek culture of the day, to slaves who were considered the property of others, and to Gentiles who longed to be accepted as legitimate believers of God, to whom God gave the same promise that he would turn the foolish, the weak, and the base and turn them into His own special peculiar people. Such are those whom God has always called, turning the outsiders into the ultimate insiders, because they have not forgotten what it is like to feel like a stranger and an outcast in a cruel world.
Even the birth of Jesus Christ was done with a particular attention to littleness. After a suitable and appropriate mother was chosen, a godly young woman who was engaged but not yet married, He was born in a little village far from the impressive areas of His time. Likewise, He grew up in Nazereth, a small town in the area of Galilee that had a bad reputation for collaborating with Romans that was looked down on even in Galilee, which was looked down by the cultured elites of Jerusalem, who were looked down as provincial religious nuts by the more cultured and sophisticated Hellenistic cities of the time. Jesus certainly did not plan His life with an eye towards biasing people towards viewing Him highly apart from the virtue of His character, and even being perfect and blameless, He was mocked for being illegitimate, constantly suffering the cuts of character assassination and slander and rumors and lies, which at times motivated Him to righteous indignation.
Even this earth is itself a modest-sized planet surrounding a star that is not particularly impressive in a somewhat backwater area of a pretty ordinary galaxy. When mankind began to greater understand the cosmos, it became fashionable to denigrate God’s providential design for mankind and this earth because of its ordinary and inconsequential nature. Yet if people had better understood the way that God worked in humanity according to His revealed word, it would have made even more sense for God’s attention to little things and backwards places as extending all the way up from the individual level to the level of cosmology. Yet human beings, have always thought that it was the massive or the important that would be the most impressive, than recognizing that God likes watching things grow, likes seeing little mustard seeds turn into spacious homes for little birds, and likes seeing little ones grow up without becoming wise in their own eyes, always remembering what it is like to be small, with all of our infinite longings and limitless wonder.