“…Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Sometimes the Bible tends to confuse me more than give me clarity. This passage out of Matthew 18 is a perfect example. Later in the New Testament we hear Paul expressing the importance of putting childish things behind, but here Jesus says that we won’t enter into His Kingdom unless we become like children. Of course we can all think of that “adult” who has failed to realize that they need to grow up. So, Paul’s idea makes at least some sense. But, what about Jesus?
Honestly, this is one of the verses I hear pastors try to explain fairly regularly. I’m not really trying to explain it as much as I am acknowledging the shift in how I see it. There are a variety of reasons for this shift, but the greatest would have to be my crossing the threshold into fatherhood.
First of all, I wonder if my upbringing, immersed in a culture defined by competitive success, has clouded my understanding of what it means to enter into God’s Kingdom. If I see that entrance as something that I have to earn (preferably before everybody else), then I will probably view this verse differently than if I see it as something that just sort of happens when I am in a posture ready to receive it. Perhaps, rather than giving us a subtle hint on this competitive race to God’s Kingdom, Jesus was making a statement centered on vision. Perhaps, learning to see the world as a child sees the world will illuminate what has been right there all along. Maybe we adults, in all of our adultness, are just simply incapable of seeing what is truly there. So, I look to Emery — my 2 year old — to see if she can help shed some light on this passage.
Kids do a lot of funny stuff. Emery has recently learned that she is quite funny. She now does things intentionally hoping that we will laugh. Today, for example, she lifted her hind end up high so we could slide the new diaper in place. But then, rather than lowering her bum so we could complete the diaper change, she simply keeps it up high and snickers. Of course we laugh. How could we not. It’s so great to see her having fun. But, is this the kind of stuff that Jesus was talking about?
In my observations I have seen a few things that make me think that Jesus might have been giving us a despicably simple, and yet profound, secret to life.
Emery always has time to “smell the roses” so to speak. Whatever schedule Mom and Dad are trying to keep doesn’t seem to prevent her from doing this on a daily basis. She absolutely loves leafs. Even now, when they are all brown and crumbly, she would love to walk in the park and collect them. I wonder if God’s Kingdom is only visible to us when we allow ourselves to be still. Maybe it takes us abandoning our schedule just a bit, or at least not worshiping it, to see what God wants us to see.
Emery lives a very experiential life. There is no obsessive analysis, no judgment, no criticism. She simply accepts each experience as it is and responds accordingly — according to the abilities of a 2 year old, of course. If she sees something pretty, she smiles. She doesn’t critique it or point out the ways it could have been done better. She simply enjoys what has been placed before her. If she encounters something that scares her, she runs as fast as she can into Mommy or Daddy’s arms. She is simply trying to find comfort because she is afraid. She isn’t looking for someone to blame for her fright. She isn’t trying to figure out how she can overpower it. She just experiences the moment and accepts it for what it is. Maybe God’s Kingdom will only be found by those who will simply experience it rather than work tirelessly to “figure it out.” We tend to be obsessed about believing the “right” thing way more than experiencing God’s embrace. This might be because God’s embrace is usually unexplainable, which makes us feel uncomfortably out of control.
Emery has no problem being herself. She hasn’t yet started to feel the pressure to become anything else. She simply does whatever Emery would do regardless of who is watching. Maybe God’s Kingdom will only be found by those who truly know themselves. Not that they know everything about themselves, but that they fearlessly allow who they are to come through regardless of who’s watching.
In the end, this passage still confuses me. Don’t be fooled into thinking that I believe I have unlocked the secret of the universe. I have just found it beautiful and healthy to admit that I don’t know it all. Actually I think that this admission is the only healthy way to approach such a sacred text. Painting the various portraits of what these words “could” mean seems to be much more productive than arguing how “right” I am. In the past I might have accused the writer of those words of having a lack of reverence for the Scriptures. Today I see how arrogant I was in my approach to the Bible and theology. Arrogance does not produce reverence. Instead, admitting that I might be wrong seems to be the most honest and reverent approach to these God Inspired texts.
So, for now, I will continue to study at the tiny feet of the one whom Jesus says I should become like. Emery got a Children’s Story Bible for Christmas. Perhaps she will illuminate some deep secrets that I am too “mature” to see as we read it with her before bed. Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously. Let’s allow ourselves to see the world through the eyes of a kid and see what happens.