Childlike faith

July 2, 2007 at 12:50 pm 7 comments

Yesterday someone quoted Matthew 11:25. It’s the verse in which Jesus praises His Father for having “hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and hav[ing] revealed them to infants.”

The verse hit me hard.

It’s very similar, after all, to Mark 10:15, where Jesus maintains that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

These verses seem to confirm the stereotypical image of Christianity as a religion for the ignorant and uneducated, a religion predicated on human gullibility and appealing to the emotions rather than the rational faculties of the mind.

You don’t need sense to be a Christian, the texts seem to say—and in fact, maybe it’s better if you lack sense. Your faith might waver if you were too knowledgeable about the facts.

If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. (1 Cor. 3:18-19)

Where does that leave someone like me, whose dream job would be that of a university professor? Whether in history or philosophy or theology, I wouldn’t really care; what attracts me to the profession is the chance to spend my days mulling over profound ideas, sharpening my intellect, expanding my mind’s ability to comprehend the world around me.

Where does that dream fit in a religion whose followers are asked for child-like faith, in a religion that warns that its truths are most accessible to the foolish?

Is there room in this faith for questions, for attempts to understand Christianity rationally? Can one bring to God both one’s heart and one’s mind, and have confidence that both will be filled and satisfied?

To be fair, of course, the Bible is not totally negative about the human intellect, and in my sane moments I am confident that God does indeed wish for thinking worshippers. As John A. Hutchinson points out, “Unthinking faith is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind.”

Indeed, the Bible sometimes blatantly asks for thinking faith: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, emphasis mine).

And while Jesus emphasized the importance of child-like trust, Paul complemented this teaching with his understanding that believers should grow and mature in their faith, progressing beyond childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20). Paul’s evangelistic practice, moreover, was to reason with non-Christians regarding Christianity (Acts 17:2, 18:4). Apparently he did not deem it necessary to ask for unthinking obedience.

But if there is a place for the mind in Christianity, I suppose there remains in Jesus’ words a warning about how one uses the mind—and especially how cocky or self-reliant one becomes on account of it. Again, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

And that’s the part that’s still hitting me hard–that part about figuring out how to engage my mind and yet maintain the childlikeness that Jesus thought so essential to saving faith.

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William Lane Craig on faith and reason Faith before reason?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Propjetsandwritings  |  July 2, 2007 at 3:48 am

    I think its interesting to note that God created the mind and intellect. We are created in the image of God. Seems to me there must be something good to it!

    Reply
  • 2. Sarah  |  July 2, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Excellent commentary, Jamie.

    Your thoughts reminded me of something that C.S. Lewis said once. He gave a special warning to Christian apologists, mentioning that God never felt so remote and unreal to him as He did just after Lewis defended God in public. Once you’ve defined God and analyzed Him, as though He could even be understood with the finite mind, one tends to lose the matchless wonder and awe of His existence. It’s always important to keep that simple childish wonder.

    Reply
  • 3. Stephen  |  July 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    I’ve heard numerous interpretations of the verse about receiving the kingdom of God like a child. Does it mean with the trust of a child? Uncritical acceptance? Humility? Wonder? The verse seems to mean whatever child-like trait a preacher wants to inculcate in his flock.

    As for Paul, he agrees with Jesus that the wise of this world are innoculated against faith. And it’s often the case that marginalized people are more receptive to the Gospel than society’s powerful elites. After all, the elites have the most to lose in a kingdom that turns worldly status upside down.

    I think I would compare the saying about the “wise and learned” to another strand of Jesus’ teaching, concerning the rich. Jesus doesn’t say that the rich can’t enter the kingdom, even though he says it’s as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of a needle! Ultimately, it’s a question of what one relies upon. If you think you can buy your way into heaven, or impress God with your good works, or prove that you’re clever enough to warrant eternal life — you’re setting yourself up for a rude surprise.

    In other words, grace is the bottom line. The wealthy, the do-gooders, and the learned can enter the kingdom: but only if they remember that grace is the ticket in, not those other assets.

    Reply
  • 4. Sam  |  July 2, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    I love these verses because they ring so true. Also see 1 Cor 1:18-26.

    My simplistic take is that it contrasts the trusting (humble) faith of a child with the (often arrogant and proud) questioning of the ‘wise’ who desire to understand for themselves, rather than trust.

    The Trinity, for example, is a clear stumbling block to the ‘wise’ who cling to their wisdom. Yet if Christ is risen, the wisdom of men is irrelevant.

    Sidenote: perhaps there is something to said about the fact that it was the tree of *knowledge* about good and evil which was forbidden?

    Reply
  • 5. Stephen  |  July 3, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Sam:
    The word “knowledge” has a range of meaning. For example: when the Bible says, “Adam knew his wife, Eve …” — it refers to an experiential sort of knowledge, not “head” knowledge.

    “Knowledge” of good and evil tends to be of that experiential sort. Adam and Eve learned what sin was by sinning.

    They shouldn’t have listened to the serpent, of course, who twisted God’s word. But I wouldn’t want you to use the text as a blanket condemnation of knowledge per se — as a condemnation of studying and thinking for oneself.

    Reply
  • 6. Sam  |  July 4, 2007 at 1:28 am

    Sorry; didn’t mean to imply all knowledge is bad. Rather, that maybe it is an example of striving for too much knowledge (wisdom).

    Reply
  • 7. Jamie  |  July 4, 2007 at 1:47 am

    Propjets: Very true.

    Sarah: I’ve felt the same thing Lewis describes. God feels farthest away when I’m in my most intellectual moods—but then again, I often fall back on my intellectual, rational foundation to help remind myself that my faith is truly reasonable and that it’s not just emotionalism. Can we say catch 22?

    Stephen: Like you, I’ve heard many interpretations of “childlike,” but when it comes right down to it, “childlike” seems opposite of “learned” no matter which angle you take. Which is what bothers me.

    Your comparison of the learned to the rich struck me also as I was writing this post, and I think you’re right: it may be harder for both groups to enter the kingdom, but it’s not impossible.

    Sam: I think your “simplistic” take is pretty close to the mark. Education and “smarts” definitely seem to serve as catalysts for arrogance and pride, and these inevitably prevent trust. I’m sure pride isn’t a necessary result of education, but it worries me that I will unconsciously fall into the habit of arrogance and then won’t be able to break it. Best antidote for that, though, is probably to be deeply immersed in the Bible (in a devotional sense, not a scholarly sense).

    Reply

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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