Thursday, April 9, 2009

Childish Faith

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Mark 10:15 & Luke 18:17

"Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 18:4

I've only heard people interpret the passages above the same way. The faith like a child is that unquestioning faith. The faith of child who takes their parents' words as truth. Child-like faith allows the Christian to accept "the Bible" as truth, even if it is hard to reason, even if it is unreasonable.

Why is that the only interpretation I've ever heard?

In Mark, Jesus mentions the children in 10:13-16, talks with a rich man, and then addresses his disciples, calling them "children." The rich man, as you might recall, asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life and Jesus ends up telling the man to sell everything and give the money to the poor before following Jesus. To his disciples, Jesus says, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God ... for God all things are possible" (10:24-25, 27).

In this section, I believe we rightly argue to interpret the child's faith as one that accepts the unbelievable (this passage specifically refers to the impossibility of obtaining--probably buying--eternal life), based on the continuation of talking about "children."

But Mark also has a way of "sandwiching" stories to make a point. The faith of the child, I believe, is one of dedication. Children are dedicated to their parents and follow them. They are (hopefully) not so prideful as to want things over their parents. The faith of a child is the one who not only follows the commandments, but also follows the spirit of the law by selling everything and giving the money to the poor just so one can better follow the parent, better commune and enjoy the parent.

And you may have already noted, "Trevar, the passage doesn't say anything about the faith of a child. It actually says, 'receive the kingdom of God as a little child.'" How do you receive something like a child? With eagerness. With such eagerness, that you might sell everything to have it (like a pearl of great price?). If you want to substitute "faith" in here somehow, go ahead. I think it fits here.

In Luke, the children bit is also followed by the rich-ruler bit, but with no other mention of "children" and the story is preceded by a bit about a pharisee and tax collector praying. Honestly, I'm not sure what exactly all that information means. Maybe you could argue children are humble (as in the Matthew passage)? Maybe you can make the same interpretation as in Mark? Maybe Luke just thought the events happened in that order.

"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." 1 Cor. 13:11

I also don't really know what it will mean to juxtapose this Pauline statement with the earlier words of Jesus. But it is intriguing, isn't it?

I just wanted to add a different interpretation and more options. I'm sure other people have made different interpretations, I just have never heard them.

I'm not throwing out the standard interpretation, either. Just adding some nuance?

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