Childlikeness

 

Childlikeness

 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. . . . It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”1

In his uniquely outrageous way, G. K. Chesterton shares his idea of divinity. Always with a seeming twinkle in his eye, he returns often to an aspect of God’s character that few other thinkers deign to contemplate—a sense of wonder. 

That God certainly has a fondness for creativity has ever been a keenly recognized part of His character, even by the most prosaic of Christian writers. To believe in God as the Creator of a multiverse as unfathomably vast as they must be, it requires little imagination to see that He must surely revel in making things, that He must “exult in monotony.”

But here we may come to a quibble with Chesterton in a thought that he probably didn’t really intend. We know that the apparent redundancy of creating a single thing billions of times over isn’t truly monotony. No two snowflakes are alike. No two daisies are alike. No two human beings are alike.

So God, the Creator, doesn’t go at it in cookie-cutter fashion. It is no assembly line carried to mere ineffable proportions. He creates every individual to be different in some way from all others of its kind. And in a mind that somehow surpasses the infinite, this surely suggests a transcendent sense of wonder. This must surely have been among those characteristics of childlikeness that Jesus exhorted us to express in our lives, “the eternal appetite of infancy.”

This “eternal appetite for infancy” suggests some provocative ideas about the nature of God. Can it be possible that God is actually childlike? If He is immutable, as Christianity has long believed, and He has childlike qualities, there is no likelihood of maturity, because maturity is a state that a person achieves as he or she leaves behind a less-developed state. 

That God may be a child—or at least is childlike—may be discomfiting to the human way of thinking because the supposition is that in human terms, a child is merely a temporary state that must inevitably lead to something even more fulfilling. Adulthood, the stage toward all children are expected to be moving, connotes independence, freedom of will―what psychologists would call self-actualization. But, again, there is this idea proclaimed by Jesus that we should be as children. It may be that the concept of maturity came about as a result of sin. Were it not for sin in the human condition, there would be no need for independence, for accountability, for self-actualization. “Self,” in fact, would be unrelated to “actualization.”

If, as Christian thought has long believed, humanity was created in the image of God, such an image—without the septicity of sin—would be for us wondrously childlike. We would be innocent, spontaneous, creative, awestricken—truly what Chesterton would call “fierce and free.”

In the San Joaquin Valley town of Tracy, California, there was no Seventh-day Adventist school for me to begin my elementary education. So in September 1952, I rode each school day in a station wagon driven by Mrs. Harriet Fisher with the two elder Fisher boys—Jimmy and Billy—to the small Adventist school in the town of Manteca, 14 miles away. As it happened, this was the very same school my father had attended some 20 years before.

During that first year, my 4-year-old brother, Kenny, was cared for by a woman while Mom and Dad both worked for a group of three Adventist doctors. I enjoyed school so much that I came home and endeavored to teach my little brother how to read. This is probably where the first interest began for me in becoming a teacher.

But something occurred during that first year of my education that reversed the roles of my brother and me in the teaching relationship. To the casual observer, it certainly would not have stood out as being highly significant, but I’ve remembered it long since.

One day, Kenny said to our mother, “I’d die for you, Mommy!”

I rolled my eyes, but my mother ate it up! She took him into her arms and hugged him. By this time in my own development, it must be confessed, I considered Kenny’s declaration to be no more than the result of an innocence that he would soon be outgrowing as he became more mature and aware of the world around him.

But since that time, more than 60 years ago, that simple declaration of childlike love by my younger brother has recurred in my memory. And it has become only too clear that his sincerity was unimpeachable and that he was expressing a timeless truth. 

Jesus said that unless we “‘become as little children, [we] will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:3, NKJV). Yet childlikeness is considered in so many ways to be a state of being that everyone naturally wishes to leave behind. And Jesus’ assertion that we should be childlike is one of His most radical.

“There is a childhood into which we have to grow,” writes George MacDonald, “just as there is a childhood which we must leave behind. . . . One is a childishness from which but few of those who are counted wisest among men have freed themselves. The other is a childlikeness, which is the highest gain of humanity.”2

In a small way, this childlikeness reminds me of my 4-year-old brother’s declaration that he would die for our mother. I have not the slightest doubt that he meant every word of what he said. Such was his selflessness and his utter love for our mother, and this led him in a poignant way to unknowingly declare a principle of love that Jesus, in an astonishingly cosmic sense, lived out as He literally gave His life for humankind. It truly was “the highest gain of humanity.”

 

REFERENCES

1. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Kindle edition, location 818.
2. George MacDonald, The Tutor’s First Love (New York: Bethany House, 1984), 23.