Childlike faith is a concept that is tossed around in Christianity and comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:3-5. In that passage Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Now often I’ve heard the idea of childlike faith explained as having a dependance upon God like children are dependent upon their parents. This explanation could be a little too simple, but I think it is a fairly good starting point. I mean now that I’m a father, I’ve had a taste of the dependance that my kids have. We have to provide so much for them, and in our faith the same is true of God.
This also fits with the context of what Jesus is talking about. Jesus was asked by his disciples who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven was. Jesus answered with children, which would have been a surprising answer. It wasn’t a person of importance, talent, or wisdom, children were the greatest. The ones who couldn’t escape their dependence and maybe even took joy in their dependence on their parents.
There are other aspects that people mention when talking about childlike faith. It is about having an awe for the world we live in. It is about naturally having trust and things of that nature. I’m not so sure I buy it, because kids are a lot more complicated than we like to imagine.
They can live in awe of what is around them, but they can also ignore things around them because they’re busy throwing a fit. They can naturally trust and say hello to complete strangers, or they can cower, run away, and scream any time they run into someone new. They can listen and follow instructions well, but they can also completely ignore you and look you in the eye while defying what you just said. They can prove to be a source of wisdom with their limited knowledge, but they can also try to authoritatively talk about things they have little knowledge about.
My point with all that is that kids are complicated and it is all too easy to derive too much out of this passage and what it means for us. We can take insights from it and I think the idea of dependance is a pretty solid concept to build off of, but it is hard to build concrete ideas out of the concept of childlike faith. Perhaps part of it is just realizing that the list above isn’t just a description of kids, it is a pretty accurate description of what I’m able to do as well.
I remember getting into a bit of a debate about what kind of media we should consume as Christians, and the person I was debating basically came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t do anything that we wouldn’t want kids doing. Now I assume given the context that his focus was we shouldn’t watch/listen/play/read what we wouldn’t want our kids to watch/listen/play/read, but I think that this concept is taking the idea of childlike faith too far.
This understanding of our faith in relationship to the faith of a child seems a bit too far. Parts of the Bible aren’t very family friendly and have parts that I wouldn’t necessarily want my kids to focus in on, would that mean that as an adult I still shouldn’t read those parts of the Bible? There are history books that involve the rather heinous acts that we as humans have done to each other that I wouldn’t want to expose my four year old to yet, but does that mean that I wouldn’t be able to read it? That it would be immoral?
Now I understand my arguments have been geared towards books that would be viewed as educational or enriching. What about media that is more for entertainment. Even this is a difficult place to draw firm lines. There is quite a significant amount of movies, books, and even video games that are presenting themes and stories that can be edifying, but placed within a messy world. A world that may or may not be every moral. Are these things I would want my kids involved with now? No, but later? Quite possibly.
This really breaks down if you exit the arena of what kind of media we consume. As adults we work, drive cars, have sex, and do many other things that we wouldn’t want our kids to be doing. If the belief is we can’t do anything that we wouldn’t want our kids doing is valid, then these would all be improper no matter the circumstances. This just doesn’t seem to be a tenable way of going about life.
So while presenting the idea of childlike faith as involving dependance upon God as a father, and other potential aspects that go along with being a child, we can easily take it a bit too far. If we turn childlike faith into something to achieve or some kind of list to adhere to then I think we have fundamentally missed what Jesus is getting at here.
It is not a call for another list of what we’re to embrace or avoid. It is a call to see ourselves as children. To place ourselves in dependence to God, and maybe in the process realizing that while we’re capable of childlike obedience and wonder, we’re just as capable of throwing tantrums and open defiance.