The Innocence of Children

There is a famous scene in The Brothers Karamazov that grabs at my emotions every time I read it. One character is speaking to his brother, and asks him this question:

“Tell me straight out, I call on you—answer me:  imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, [one child], and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears—would you agree to be the architect on such conditions?. . . And can you admit the idea that the people for whom you are building would agree to accept their happiness on the unjustified blood of a tortured child, and having accepted it, to remain forever happy?”

I don’t know why this passage holds such intrigue for me. Perhaps it is because children themselves are intriguing to me. They play such a unique role in the Bible, and seemed to hold such a unique place in the heart of Christ.

Yet we don’t really seem to understand children. We have sent men to outer space, to answer questions that we never believed it was possible to answer. We have poured billions upon billions of dollars and resources into understanding things like bacteria, cancer, and parasites, and have come far in our understanding. We have used the elements to create ingenious and stunning new technologies. But regarding questions that hit a little closer to the heart, questions that affect every human being, most of us don’t know the story of our own children. We cannot answer where they came from, why they are here, or why they appear so innocent and precious to us. It is still a mystery. And I don’t believe that we have been able to answer the most troubling of all questions posed above:

Why do children suffer?

Earlier, Ivan, the character who posed the question, says, “The whole world of knowledge is not worth the tears of that little child to ‘dear God.’ I’m not talking about the suffering of grown-ups, they ate the apple and to hell with them, let the devil take them all, but these little ones!”

And Ivan is right. A common answer to the problem of suffering is that God has given us our agency…it is done. He placed the power to choose within our grasp and sat back and let the consequences play out. But what of children? They have not “eaten the apple,” so to speak, do not yet have a fuller understanding of good and evil.

Well, in any case, I don’t know. But I trust that someday I will.


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