I always cringe when I see admonitions to the wise and the learned in the scriptures. In more than one place did Jesus take on the educated elite and put them in their place. As a professor, I am pretty certain he is talking to me when he says that there is much about the nature of God that is hidden from me. The more I try to figure out God and Jesus and who they really are with elaborate theologies and social theories, or even my vast experience with life at my over-the-hill middle age, the more confused I get. I think what Jesus is saying here is that it isn’t about the intellect. Little children can get it. So it must be about something else. So today I reflect on how little children know things and what it is about children that wise and learned adults can recover if we become childlike.
Everyone knows that little children are very intuitive when it comes to people who are kind and loving. They sense that and are drawn to such people. They trust them and listen to them when they are given instructions. I get along with little kids just fine but I don’t really relate to them as well as some people do. There are really special people out there who work in day care centers and teach in the primary grades. And there are a lot of parents who are just really good with little kids. Some parents and teachers do better with teenagers, and they are special too. I actually relate best to college age kids and that is why I am a professor. I know that one of the first things I have to do to get my students to work hard to learn in my class is to convince them that they can trust me and that I am there because I care about them.
Of course, there are those kids that try to figure out how to game the system. They are always trying to find a crack in the rules or challenge the system. We’ve all done it. Most of the time, they are just testing to see if they really can trust someone to be fair and consistent. It is reassuring when we know people who are in charge are fair and faithful. So from a childlike perspective, it seems to me that the kind of relationship between us and God and Jesus has to do with us not trying to figure out how to game the system, but just trusting that it is set up in our best interest. Of course, it is also in our best interest for there to be rules. But the scriptures for today reveal that God doesn’t set them up just to “tread us down like the mud off the streets.” I really liked that one. That isn’t what he has in mind, Isaiah tells us. God wants us to understand that God is all powerful, all wisdom, and all faithfulness.
As little children, we are lucky if we have the kind of parents who impress us with their wisdom, power, and faithfulness. I had parents like that so it was a lot easier for me to think of a God who could be trusted. When I was a child, my parents had all the answers, they held all the rules, and they faithfully took care of me out of love. I remember when I realized that my parents weren’t all wisdom, but they were still all powerful and all faithfulness. They still offered guidance. Fortunately, by that time, I had developed my own wisdom and had the confidence to live my own life. But that didn’t change the rules and their high expectations. And then I remember when they were no longer all powerful, but they were still all faithfulness. They gave up trying to make me be what they wanted me to be, but they still loved me. Fortunately, by that time, I was able to help take care of them. They still thought they had all the answers and told the same old moral tales over and over again, but we all outgrow our parents at some point. In the end, we just all love and accept each other.
So to whom do we go for wisdom, power, and faithfulness? Who can we trust when we become adults and outgrow our parents? Today we are reminded that we should not forget what it means to be a child. I am one of those old fashioned people who think it is important that adults model wisdom, power, and faithfulness for children. But we need to be humble. Our wisdom is limited to earthly things. Our power must be tempered with love. And our faithfulness needs to be unconditional. And we better hope that every child and every student will outgrow us at an appropriate point. But the lessons today are still more about our relationship to God than to each other. We are reminded by the scriptures that no matter how wise and learned we are, we can be very foolish. Wisdom and knowledge isn’t worth anything if we don’t have a childlike trust in God and follow God with our whole hearts like children who trust good parents. No matter how wise and learned we become, we can’t outgrow God. God is always wiser, more powerful, and more faithful!
Today I pray that we will take seriously our responsibilities to be wise and learned adults that others can trust, but that we will also encourage each other to be childlike in our trust of an all wise, all powerful, all faithful God. We should let children see that part of us too.