Useless Children According to Ben Sera
By Linda Kracht
Chapter 16:1: “Do not desire a multitude of useless children.”
It’s always helpful to study the old and the new Sacred Scripture to stay grounded in who God is and what He does for us. But what do we do with statements like this one from Sirach: “Do not desire a multitude of useless children!” [Sirach 16:1] This line has been on my mind for the last several weeks and not only because I have a multitude of children and grandchildren. When I first read it, I actually had to laugh out loud! But later, it made me wonder if Ben Sera was more concerned about the multitude of nitwits that existed then or was he concerned about the how and why they became useless? Both possibilities seem worth pursuing. What was Ben Sera really trying to warn against? The Book of Sirach is one of the wisdom books that offers us many nuggets of truth — about God, mankind and virtue. So that brought me back to my original questions. What are useless children? And how do they become useless? Ben Sera goes on to say: “Do no desire a multitude of useless children. Nor rejoice in ungodly sons. If they multiply, do not rejoice in them unless the fear of the Lord is in them … and it is better to die childless than to have ungodly children.” Ben Sera seems to get at the heart of the matter: the lack of Faith.
Parents need to train children in the virtues — so where should they start? The most obvious and necessary precursors include Faith, Hope and Charity followed up closely with Obedience; Gratitude for Life; and Generosity. These important virtues seem to be the cornerstones [building blocks ] for the other one hundred and fifty-five natural virtues. Children need to learn obedience on a natural level before they can begin to understand why it’s important on a supernatural level. It’s also important that children learn obedience because their parents are [or should be] in charge for good reasons that should not need to be explained! In fact, parents know more than their children and we have more wisdom due to age, life experience, and rational thinking. I’m wondering this — if children are useless, isn’t it likely that their parents aren’t doing what they have to do as the head of the home — and therefore they are also useless! [according to Ben] The virtue of gratitude naturally fosters obedience to those who give us life — and that has to include gratitude for our parents and God. Gratitude also awakens us to just how much is given to us by the ones who love us authentically — even when we are still young and pretty much useless in the eyes of the materialistic world! And then there’s the virtue of generosity. We become more generous when we learn to love gratefully! On the other hand, uselessness is behind the mentality that everything we have is our’s alone — it’s that sense of entitlement that makes us selfish and self-centered.
Ben Sera issues a warning that is worth heeding — even when at first it seems like a joke. We are living amidst rampant materialism and consumerism that gets in the way of Faith, Hope, Love, Obedience, Gratitude and Generosity! We live in a very intolerant culture toward anything related to God and personal Virtue! And way too many parents assume that their job is to keep their children happy and well adjusted by giving them things rather than time out to learn about God, Faith, Hope and Love! I love the words of Abigail Shrier: [Irreversible Damage]: Teens are supposed to get angry and emotional. Parents are supposed to set limits…. Your teenager may even tell you she hates you she may even believe it. But on a deeper level, some of her need for individuation and rebellion may be satisfied. If you have a fight with your teen, she might be angry with you, but, she’ll feel the presence of a guardrail! Sometimes just knowing that may be enough…”
And that’s the reason for why children become useless — they fail to consider God’s guardrails! They want to pursue pleasure at all costs. They think the world revolves around them rather than the other way around. Consider how many children sit and stare at screens all day long and find that satisfying and pleasurable! I suppose we could also jump to the conclusion that there are many useless children in the world; however, what’s worse is knowing that they are useless because their parents allowed it or encouraged it or failed to do anything about it.
I have been urging parents not to give their children cell phones for years now. And yes, I have been ridiculed and often told that that train left a long time ago. So, when I read Abigail write the following I feel useful and affirmed. “Nearly every novel problem teenagers face today traces itself back to 2007 and the introduction of Steve Jobs iPhone In fact, the explosion in self harm can be so precisely pinpointed to the introduction of this one device that researchers have little doubt that it is the cause. If I had told you in 2007, that one device would produce a sudden skyrocketing in self harm among teens and tweens you would likely have said, no way is my kid getting one. And yet here we are; the statistical explosion of bullying, cutting, anorexia, depression and the rise of sudden transgender identification is owed to the self harm instruction, manipulation, abuse and relentless harassment supplied by the single smartphone.” [Abigail Schrier]
Who would have thought that Ben Sera could see the future world with its multitudes of children staring uselessly into their iPhones right alongside their parents.
By the way, the Book of Sirach holds the distinction of being the only wisdom book in the Bible that can be dated with precision - give or take a decade. [Ignatius Bible Study] It was written 2.25 millenniums ago - 196 - 175 B.C. Guess the name of Ben Sera’s son! Jesus!