Posted by: dacalu | 25 June 2010

Faith Like Little Children

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

I was talking about faith with a fundamentalist the other day, expressing the importance of humility and this phrase came up in a rather surprising way. I have a new appreciation for it.

I had said that I thought we must be open to knew interpretations and new understandings.

He replied that we must not question the clear interpretation of scripture, but rather “should have faith like little children.”

I thought for a moment, then asked him, “Do you have any children?”

He replied, “no.”

So I asked whether he’d ever had a serious discussion on philosophy, religion, or just about anything with a little child.

Again, “no.”

So I told him, as I had realized myself, just what talking with a little child is like. They questions everything. From the 2 year olds, who simply follow every statement with “Why?” to the middle schoolers who badger you to make things consistent and apply them concretely to life, to the high schoolers who just tilt their head and sigh when you’re not making sense. Children never simply accept without question.

Let us for a moment set aside the teenagers, who may just be contrary and look at the younger kids, which I think is more what Jesus was going for. Some cultures recognized teenagers as adults. Some translations use “little children.” My experience has been that it is only adults who pretend to understand a statement the first time through, who claim to understand it’s full importance. Children are for more likely to question why something is true, and how it is true, and what it means. Children are unafraid to keep asking questions until they understand exactly what you mean. That’s child-like faith.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Jesus (especially in the context of Matthew 18) intended to discourage those who questioned for the sake of questioning – and those who simply liked to poke holes in things. Faith like little children is a far cry from the type of academic word slinging that leads people to say they understand because they’ve read it in Greek (and the tense of the word is thus and such). This kind of nonsense is perpetrated both by “conservatives” and “liberals.” Another fundamentalist told me that the concept of fornication is perfectly clear in the Greek then proceeded to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of Hellenistic marriage concepts. We can be “too smart for our own good” sometimes.

Scripture is hard. Interpretation is hard. We will only understand if we pursue it reverently – but ardently. Scripture requires study, persistence, help from a community, openness to knew ideas, and above all the help of the Holy Spirit. And in the end, this is what troubles me most about “scriptural inerrancy;” God alone is God. Only by a personal relationship with the Divine, will scripture make sense. It cannot be decoded and rendered perfectly by any preacher or scholar. The best interpreters open it up, so that you can come to God through it. So I try not to make an idol of my idea of scripture or anyone else’s.

I try to have faith like a child, listening for something I have not heard yet, accepting what I hear, but trying to fit it in with everything else I know. I continue to ask God, “What does it mean?” And I take joy in asking, learning, and applying. I wish for you also, this childlike faith.

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Responses

  1. One of the problems is that we use “faith” to mean several things, including assent to certain statements about God. Faith includes coming to assent, but only after the inevitable “why” questions, but it begins with faith as trust in the Other, in God as we have come to see God in Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God with us.


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