I imagine something like that within the mind and heart of our President last Thursday as he announced his ordering of an airstrike on the runways used by the Syrian President to launch his poisonous assaults on innocents of his own country. Whether one agrees with that response or holds out hope that such response is likely to help long term, still the impulse to do something decisive was widespread. Clearly, in the aftermath of Thursday’s response by our government, most of the world has taken notice in ways different than before and many geopolitical dynamics are now set in motion. Again, whether it will help the children, or save them, and wherever those dynamics lead, it will seem and feel right to many people to have acted clearly, decisively and powerfully.
As followers of Jesus, and perhaps especially during Holy Week, our hearts go out to the children and their families. Our prayers will pour out and toward them for their lives and future well-being. In response to apostolic command, we will want to lift up holy hands as we plead with the Father of us all to save the children. We pray for our President and Congress, our intelligence agencies and operatives, our service women and men, our diplomatic corps, and all others near and far who can make plans and implement them for the sake of the children in Syria and everywhere else.
As followers of Jesus, especially during Holy Week, we will want to make sure we notice and care for the children. After all, Jesus welcomed them, blessed them, praised them as models of his kingdom, assured that efforts for them somehow counts as also for God, and warned that disregarding and hurting them is an ultimate affront to God. In fact, Jesus is on the record that it would be better to harm self than to harm a little one. Unless we become like children and then unless we relate to God and others in some ways as children we cannot even enter God’s kingdom. If Jesus is to be trusted, then whatever we might do about the great challenges of our world, in the discharge of our duties and responsibilities we dare not forget about, disregard, or harm children. We dare not above all because the children have special place and prominence in God’s plans for the world.
Thus, we join our government leaders abhorring the sight of innocent Syrian children dead by chemical assault. We share the revulsion of it all and feel the compulsion to do something for the children.
But the shock of the news and pictures of dead children should not beguile us and then set us up for feeling relieved by a retaliatory missile strike. Long before Thursday, the children were already suffering and dying, perhaps not by nerve gas but by any number of other prolonged agonies. For years, now, a steady stream of reports has chronicled relentless lethal outcomes for children who were forgotten, disregarded, and considered collateral damage in the pursuit of political goals. This is true of the conflict between insurgents and the government forces, of the responses of other groups and nations in the region, and of our government’s responses over several years. Too often the world has responded or not as though there were no children at risk or as if the children that were and remain at risk do not matter.
The response of our President last Thursday came at a very high cost. Literally. I “googled” the matter (no great research here!) and learned that each Tomahawk missile cost $832,000. The U.S. launched 59 of them. Therefore, our response last Thursday to these crimes against humanity cost $49,000,000 USD. Actually, it costs considerably more when you add the expenses of launching them. Yet none of those dollars directly saved or helped even a single child. Of course, various ones will make the arguments: this display of powerful destructive capability will convince “them” to stop the atrocities and deter others from future assault. Or, destroying the airfields will make it impossible for future atrocity to be launched from that site. Or, it will not accomplish anything helpful to and saving for children in the long term. Or, it will. The arguments will be made and go back and forth. But as the arguments proceed, the children in Syria and the world remain as vulnerable and threatened as ever.
Consider the amount of money our government is willing to pay or to invest when it becomes painfully obvious that children need protecting and saving—49 million in an evening! When considered against the reality that this expense did not directly help any child one wonders whether it’s not just an iffy-gamble, rather than a reasonable investment. It raises the question in my mind, are there other ways we might spend 49 million dollars in one day, or occasionally, that would in fact directly help and save children?
Our church has a childcare program that designs ways to help and save children in relatively needy areas of the world by feeding and educating them, among other support services. This costs $30 a month. I did a bit of calculation and was astounded to find that 49 million dollars would provide one month’s food, education and other things for a million children, leaving 19 million still to be spent. Theoretically, then, here are two alternatives: We could spend 49 million dollars to bomb an airstrip to smithereens without necessarily helping anyone’s child in the face of mortal threat OR we could feed and educate 1 million children for one month, with generous change to spare. Of course, this is not a real set of alternatives, is it? It would be impossible to organize such an enterprise that could deliver what was needed for a million children, wouldn’t it? This would never work, would it?
Besides, even if you helped that many children you still would not have addressed the people and the conditions that have created the settings where, indeed, rulers can gas innocents to a painful death to show their power and enforce their will. In other words, even if in the short term you could actually help and save some children, wouldn’t it be like plugging one hole in a collapsing dam only to watch as others quickly burst open? In still other words, helping and saving children—even if you could do it—would, at most, only postpone the inevitable. I get it and I track with the logic.
Even so, we followers of Jesus have heard about a different kind of kingdom and different set of priorities and urgencies. We have been taught that seeking this kingdom first leads to places where a lot of other things will come together in ways that are good. We have watched in our mind’s eye, with faith-imagining, as Jesus is welcomed as King one Sunday, executed as royal-pretender later in the week, and then on the next Sunday perpetrates the most awesome coup d’état on the world, such that everything he himself taught and practiced stands before us with stunning credibility.
If that is so, perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. Perhaps pursuing the interests of children not only helps and saves children, but somehow others as well. Perhaps saving children would save the world.
What if a government decided to spend a few missiles’ worth of money on a consistent basis to shelter, feed, and care for children, their own, others’ own, even their enemies own? Would it hurt to help in this way? I dare to say it wouldn’t hurt us as much as it would help some of the world’s children.
Among other things here is how this fleshes out for me: It is common now to react to the threats of our world by building more and better missiles and by expanding our capacities to shower them upon places on the other side of the world. But, of course, that is expensive—remember just one Tomahawk costs 832 thousand dollars. How could we afford to build up our arsenal? One answered proposed is to cut provisions to feed and care for the poor, their children and families. We could divert that part of our budget toward our own defense. Yes, we could. (Although it wouldn’t help us all that much since it is now costing us relatively so little to extend such help).
But I am wanting to think kingdom thoughts and align with kingdom values. Don’t you? I dare to trust that King Jesus speaks with awareness of truth we hardly perceive—care for the little ones, feed, shelter, and protect the children; ours and theirs, and see what good it does. I am skeptical of strategies that merely show how powerful we are as our only or primary response to crimes against humanity’s littlest ones. And I am opposed to massive increases in weaponry that require cutting the already meager though by kingdom standards still promising funding for ministries to the poor and their children.
Comparatively speaking it never costs very much to save some children. It only requires us to “sacrifice” a few missiles now and again.