Raising children is an adventure. My wife and I have three children and they are different in so many ways. However, one way they are the same is in their complete unwavering trust in God. In a scene from chapter 9 in the Gospel of Luke, we find the disciples arguing over who is the greatest among them. Jesus responds with a solution: He takes a child by His side and says “whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you is the one who is great” (Luke 9:46-48).
This near-obsession with this notion of childhood, the presentation of a child as being supremely acceptable before God, is a thought that runs through the New Testament. Jesus said “let the children come to me” Matthew 19:14), and then insisted that unless we become like them, we’ll never really know Him. The Kingdom of God, He said, belongs to such as them. When Christ told Nicodemus in the Gospel of John that he must be born again, Nicodemus simply couldn’t wrap his head around it (John 3:4). For one, it was impossible. That was the given. But the underlying question may have been why this rabbi would revere, indeed treasure, a state in which human beings seem so helpless, so impractically optimistic, so immature, and unaware of the world.
The idea of a childlike state seems at first to contradict Paul’s teaching to put childish things behind us, a notion that C.S. Lewis clarifies in his defense of children’s literature. “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term,” he said, “cannot be adult themselves … When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown-up.” The fact of the matter is simple: The idea of adulthood is a dangerous one for young adults venturing out into “the real world,” whatever that may be. When we graduate from college, get a job and enjoy the legal benefits afforded to the post-21 crowd, we’re bombarded on a nearly moment-to-moment basis with opportunities. Often, we justify many of these opportunities with the singular notion that “this is what adults do”—as though “this is what adults do” were an appropriate justification for a thing.
Adulthood is potentially dangerous because it can create the false expectation that at some magic point we’ve got things pretty well figured out when, in reality, we’re adrift in a sea of people who are literally making it up as they go. As Christians living in a culture that tends to present opportunities counter to our identities in Christ—children of God, as we’re referred to time and again—the danger is that we may be influenced into believing the lie that the decisions we make are without the burden of consequence we could expect when we were younger. What does it mean to embrace the alternative as children of God? First, it means that we have a Father who holds us responsible for the decisions we make, but also one that will guide the confusing decision-making process the state of adulthood lends us. It means we have the protection of one who bears the very consequences of obedience to Him. Contrary to the dynamic of parent-child relationships, this is actually an incredibly freeing prospect.
When we embrace the child, as we are commanded to do, we can train ourselves to instinctively distrust the excuse that “this is what grown-ups do.” This allows us to react against the notion that we must grow up; that is, we’re actually afforded the right to reject the very concept of “growing up” without any further thought. Being childish isn’t the same as being childlike. One is a simple state of development and nothing more; the other is expressly required of us as Christians. Having a child-like faith is different than a childish faith. One relies completely on God and the other does not.
As adults we need to get back to the faith of a child and complete reliance of God. This Sunday at South Side we will begin our new series entitled “Like A Child” where we will unpack four child-like characteristics that will bring us closer to God. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you come grow with us!
South Side Church of Christ