Come as a little child come ready to learn and be surprised,
For of such is the KingdomCome as a child.
- Richard Avery
When the Old Testament prophet wrote, A little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6), his words had overtones beyond their primary meaning that the Messiah would come to earth in the form of a child. Who hasnt heard this phrase, or quoted it, when a child displays wisdom that eclipses their own?
Ever since my recent column comparing my grandchildrens simple faith with my adult misgivings, Ive been thinking of other times when children, often my own, have taught me spiritual truths I might not have learned any other way.
For instance, when my now-10-year-old granddaughter was a pre-schooler, a couple Saturdays a month she packed clothes, a favorite stuffed animal, and her all-important church shoes so she could spend the night at my house and go church with me the next day. One warm weekend, however, she also packed a pair of fur-trimmed, knit gloves to wear with her summery skirt and top. When I asked what she planned to do with the gloves she said, Put hands in it! Equally succinct was her reason for wanting to go church in the first place: Cause I like Jesus.
We smile, but marvel at such simple insight. Though the time should come when we put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11), theres something sad about the complexity we grown-up go-churchers make of our faith. We split hairs over doctrine, a literal vs. symbolic Bible, whether heaven and hell are figurative or real, and if salvation is forever or can be lost by any number of unpardonable sins.
Im not sure why this happens. Even a casual glance at the gospels reveals the anger Jesus displayed toward the religiously correct Pharisees. Woe unto you, hypocrites, he said, for you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but are full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27). He must have stung the religious leaders again when he told them the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these, meaning the children they had just tried to shoo away (Luke 18:15-17). And when the prominent Pharisee, Nicodemus, took Jesus aside for a one-on-one discussion of spiritual things, Jesus took his child analogy a step further: No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3).
Understanding isolated passages in the Bible can be as baffling as wondering why a little girl would wear thick, winter gloves on a warm, summer day. But, as a grown-up friend reminds me, God doesnt tell us to park our brains outside the church door. Instead we are to study to correctly handle the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15). It wasnt knowledge Jesus was against, but arrogance. The contrast between the Pharisees and the children they were told to resemble was enormous. One group was teachable; the other was not.
Materially, we live in a back-to-basics era. We long for a simpler, less cluttered life. Spiritually, we could use some trimming or regressing to simpler days, too. I now believe the horror of the crucifixion can be described by another pre-schooler I thought I was teaching, but who personified that event for me by exclaiming, Some mean, old men stuck nails in esus wegs! Another time, on an exasperating day in the parent trenches, it was comforting to be reassured that, even mothers that spank go to heaven.
My favorite lesson, however, came from my own, not-quite-4-year-old son. After recovering from a bout of bronchitis he was dressing to go outside and play.
Oh, Honey, I said, "isnt it wonderful the medicine made you better?
Thoughtfully, he replied, Medicine didnt make me better, Jesus did. Head still down, he continued: Jesus goin come get me someday and take me up to the sky.
Suddenly, as if he had the most wonderful news in the world to share, his voice rose, and he asked, Mum, you wanna come?
For of such is the Kingdom Come as a child.
Richard Avery didnt say that. Jesus did.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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