When Jesus says we must become like children in order to be part of God’s Kingdom, I have usually probed his words by thinking of positive childhood traits. I would then meditate on the extent to which they were present or absent in me. And to be honest, this has been a good way to study Jesus’ exhortation.
But recently, I saw his words from a new vantage point. I saw Jesus saying, in effect, “Do not let your becoming an adult lead you farther away from the life God wants you to live.” And that started me thinking in a new way.
The journey into adulthood is comprised of many acts designed to help us fit into and become successful in the culture we grow up in. Most of these qualities are necessary and beneficial.
The problem is that part of the patterning process shapes us to be conformed to the world–something Paul warned us against in Romans 12:2. Becoming “adult” in a fallen-world system includes learning how to be shrewd, successful, and status-conscience. The journey into adulthood, viewed from this angle, is a journey into multiple manifestations of egocentrism.
When “having it my way” becomes the core value, my adulthood will bless attitudes and actions that eventually collide with Gospel values. If faith even matters at that point, the only option is to become a divided soul–a secular self and a spiritual self. This is usually accompanied by secrecy, so that our religious friends don’t know we are secular, and our secular friends do not know we are religious. We keep our two worlds neatly separated and clean from cross contamination.
Problem is, the divided life destroys the wholeness (what ‘salvation’ literally means) God intends. Becoming adult in these ways has meant losing the “hidden wholeness” (Parker Palmer’s phrase) we are meant to have.
And so, Jesus says, the way Home is to become like children–not childish, but singular–whole people who shape their identity and behavior by the Gospel. To be God’s child is to be shaped by the example of Christ, and then to express the Christlike life in ways akin to the fruit of the Spirit, and in ways that enact the two great commandments.