Think like a child.
Why did Jesus say it was easy for a child to get into Heaven (Matthew 18: 1-4, 19: 14, Mark 10: 15, Luke 18: 17)? Well, there is more than one reason, but I’ll start with the one I find most obvious. It’s because a child knows its place in the world. It is instinctive for a child to rely on other people; on its parents firstly, but incompetent parents may lead them to relying on someone else who fills that role. Having no-one else to pick them up from incompetent parents (no ‘back-up’ parent, you could say) may lead them to having a very messy life from then on in as they try to fill the void. Most problems later in life can be traced back to something going wrong in that ‘growing up’ period. Even fleeting insecurities have their roots in an attention deficit or relationship breakdown from childhood and adolescence.
God is the furthest thing from an incompetent parent that we can imagine (and even our imaginations can’t do Him justice). We are to God now what we once were to our parents; not just an object of love, but also something that is totally dependent on that love. If we have any hope of living holy lives as Christians, we must rely on our Father in Heaven as we once relied on our earthly parents. They will pass away over time, but God never passes away. It makes complete sense to me (and possibly to you too, but you may not be at this stage yet) that this whole life is our ‘growing up’ period – something that is preparing us for eternal maturity. To try living it without God will ultimately have similar results to an orphaned earthly life, only much more detrimental because, as I have said, God is not simply a parent, but the parent. He is not only the best one we could possibly have wished for, but He is also the only eligible one. There is no ‘back-up’. Not that we need a ‘back-up’, you see, because He will not let us down. But having been lied to by the world, which wants our attention and leads us to believe that it can provide us with multiple examples of suitable ‘back-ups’ should we decide to choose our own parent, many people do not realise it.
Some of you may now be thinking, “choose my own parent? What is he talking about? I’m a grown-up. I’m a man, or a married woman with three kids. I can look after myself”. But understand that when I say ‘parent’, I mean a child’s definition of a parent, which is probably very different from what you now think a parent to be. A child’s parent is the most important thing in the whole world to them. As we grow up, we gradually replace them with other important things in our lives. Sometimes (a lot of times), those important things include a love of money, sex or power. If you were not given enough attention (or equally, felt a lack of love from those around you) as a child you may become insecure and greatly desire acceptance from others – at any cost. Children worship their parents, for if it wasn’t for them, that child would have little hope of surviving unscathed, and the child instinctively knows it. Their parents are their source of comfort, their protection, the people who can be relied on to be there whenever you need them, at any place, any time. Now, this is the key flaw in my analogy, if you wish to focus more on the parent than the child (but understand that I have been talking here entirely from the child’s perspective). For an earthly parent is still human, and therefore has flaws. They will at some point let you down. You will realise that, in fact, this dependence is not how real life works and you need to come to a point where you can rely on your own efforts to survive. But you see, that’s not entirely true. This kind of dependence is exactly how real life (as God intended it to be) works, and the only reason you start to feel that it’s abnormal or immature is because of the flaws, however small, in the people around you. Let’s also be clear that however amazing your parents may have been, they weren’t by any means perfect, as no-one is. Looking at them, at the world, and judging God by their standards rather than the other way around is the cause of your mistaken opinion that dependence on anyone, much less Him, is foolish once you ‘grow up’.
People often blame God when their lives are going/ have gone horribly. But do you see what I have been trying to illustrate with my not-altogether-accurate (albeit the best I can do) analogy? The things that have gone wrong in our lives haven’t gone wrong because God made that decision to make our lives horrible. The great gift of free will that we have is not conditional, you know! There are not choices that make God say ‘actually, I don’t fancy that; you’re not doing it’. He may give us pointers, advice, perhaps a push from time to time, but we are still free to choose our path, and unfortunately, the consequences of our choices are often felt by the next generation. Do you blame God for the fact that your dad (through his own wrong choices, and possibly experiences brought about by other people’s wrong choices before him) never gave you enough attention? Or will you turn to Him after experiencing a world corrupted through man’s bad decisions and say, ‘Lord, now I know how things shouldn’t be done. Over to you; teach me how things should be’ – which is exactly the conclusion every Christian eventually comes to. At its core, Christianity is about coming back to a level of humbleness which strips away all of the experiences of your life and sets you back to the childlike stage of knowing your little place in the big universe (effectively being ‘born again’), where the most important thing to you is being in the arms of your loving Father. Equally, it pleases Him to see you coming with that attitude. He loves you with all the values that you can imagine the best Father has, and then more on top of that.
Not that it is a particularly new revelation within the Christian faith, but what made me begin to see this lesson that Jesus taught in a fresh light was, funnily enough, a recent play through of the video game Silent Hill. The debate over whether video games are good for us or not isn’t something I’m going to get into, because it’s insignificant in comparison to the current issue – but believe me, I will be addressing it in a future post. For now, I want to get straight to the point.
Towards the end of Silent Hill, there is a puzzle which you must complete in order to get a tablet that acts as a key for the next section. On entering the room where this puzzle resides, you can see four pictures on the walls either side of you, consisting of: a pair of scales, a ram, two fish, and a crab. Each of these pictures has been assigned a number between one and ten. On a pillar in the centre of the room, there are three more pictures: a bull, a centaur, and twins. These three are without numbers. The puzzle is; you have to come up with those numbers for the three extra pictures based on what you can establish about the relationship between them after observing the other four.
Naturally, I assumed this was a ‘Zodiac’ puzzle, as each of the pictures displayed different objects we would associate with the signs of the Zodiac. I then went about doing my homework on star signs (it’s not something I’m otherwise that interested in) and tried to arrange them into some sort of numerical pattern between one and twelve. Yet I initially got nowhere with this; the ram was numbered ‘4’ despite being Aries and typically the first in the Zodiac line, while the crab was ‘10’ which, however I looked at it, made no sense at all. The other two were the fish (0) and scales (2). If you wish to attempt the puzzle yourself right now, why don’t you stop reading to go off and work it out, as I’m about to give you the answer. Go on; this post will still be here when you get back!
The answer can, of course, only be worked out when you drop the idea that it is indeed a ‘Zodiac’ puzzle. Because it’s not. In fact, the signs of the Zodiac don’t even come into it. The objects in the pictures are carefully chosen to make you think that’s what it is all about; the game is essentially banking on your own knowledge of something to throw you off the scent. What the puzzle really wants to know is: how many arms and/ or legs do each of the objects in the pictures have? It’s as simple as that. A crab has 10 (counting its pincers), a ram only 4, the scales 2, and a fish, of course, doesn’t have any (0). Therefore, the answer is 6 (the centaur), 4 (bull), 8 (4 for each of the twins).
This puzzle is what helped me truly understand what Jesus meant when he said we must be like children. A child (presumably) would have had a much easier time with that task than I did, because a child wouldn’t have had that extra knowledge of the Zodiac, and therefore would see the answer without thinking. Its first instinct would have been to count the arms and legs; something that I may have scoffed at as being too simple.
I think our world relates in much the same way towards God as that puzzle does to arms and legs. As we grow, our knowledge grows with us, and we are filled with a desire for intelligent theories about, well, everything, to the extent that we can miss the very simple point of our existence: having a relationship with God as Father, with us as His children. It’s a specific lesson that I think is often overlooked in theological teaching. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use our brains (God gave them to us for a reason), but what I am trying to say is that having lots of knowledge is like having lots of money: it can cloud your judgment, and when Jesus warned that it was hard for a rich man to get into Heaven, he wasn’t only referring to your bank account.