A Mature Faith is Childlike Not Childish

child holding Bible

Mixed messages can be frustrating, especially when they come from the Bible.

Take, for instance, when Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 10:15 that they must receive the kingdom of God as a little child. With childlike faith, we say: open, trusting, even innocent.

Then Hebrews turns around and upbraids its listeners for not having a mature faith. He calls them babies, and not in a good way. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Am I supposed to have a childlike faith or an adult-like faith?

A closer look suggests that Jesus is saying that we should be childlike in our relationship with God and his kingdom while the writer of Hebrews is saying that our approach scripture—”the word of righteousness”—needs to be with done with great maturity.

Unfortunately, it seems that most people do just the opposite. They subject their thinking about God to intense scrutiny, examining it under the lens of the modern, rationalist worldview.

Meanwhile, while their approach to scripture has changed very little from the time they were in Sunday School in the 3rd grade.

Overthinking God

Let’s take the first. Our thinking about God should be sophisticated, and we should bring all of our faculties to bear when doing so. But we can overthink God, and church history is full of examples.

Take the doctrine of transubstatiation. (As a general rule, if the name of a doctrine contains more than three syllables, you’re probably overthinking things.) This is the belief in the Catholic church and others that the bread or host of communion becomes the actual body of Christ when the priest consecrates it.

While I don’t subscribe to such a doctrine, I’m not repelled by it either. It can point to a greater mystery that the Church is the body of Christ in a way that is both metaphor and reality, and that’s not a bad thing.

Scholastics in the Middle Ages, however, debated the ramifications if a crumb of the consecrated host fell to the floor and was later eaten by a mouse.

If that’s not overthinking, then nothing is.

The operative word above is mystery. The modern thinker has little room for mystery except as something to solve, and in the modern world all mysteries are solvable. Given enough time, enough experiments, enough advances in our understanding of the world, any and all mysteries can be solved.

I’m not much interested, however, in a God I can solve, explain, or contain within my or anyone else’s understanding. Such a being cannot be God, who is ultimately beyond our understanding. God is even beyond the ability of language to describe.

Mystery is central to who God is.

Children understand mystery. They don’t try to solve it, they just accept it with awe and wonder. And that is the correct approach to an ineffable God.

Underthinking Scripture

On the other hand, our approach to scripture, especially among Evangelicals, is often grossly immature.

Here’s a little test: has your understanding of the story of David and Goliath progressed beyond the level you had in the 3rd grade? I hope so, but I have my doubts. More than likely you haven’t thought that much about it since the 3rd grade, and that’s understandable.

But there are pastors with theological training under their belts whose understanding of that story hasn’t changed much since they were children.

And when others try to bring a more sophisticated approach, it’s not too long before they sling labels instead of engaging in a conversation with their peers.

Labels which allow them to dismiss their colleagues and their approach.

In other words, they resort to name-calling.

Which is childish rather than childlike.

The Bible has many riches to give the person who is willing to delve into its complexity. It’s not at all inaccessible to us, but it requires more than a childike approach, certainly more than a childish approach.

It deserves to be treated with the respect that only a mature faith can bring.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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