Chapter 7: The Spirit of a Child
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Jesus
In the gospels there is an event recorded of a time when little children were around Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples tried to send them away. And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein (Lk.18:15-17). Jesus’ interactions with these children displayed the quality of Jesus character as well as the open nature of a child. As we continue our exploration of character traits that are essential, this subject indicates several qualities that fall under the umbrella of the spirit of a child. Jesus identified this spirit as essential, qualifying it as mandatory in order to enter into a kingdom established by Truth.
There are multiple examples in the New Testament of parents bringing a child that was sick, or paralyzed, and even on one occasion a child who had died, to Jesus so that he could heal them. However, the parents on the occasion previously mentioned, these parents simply wanted their children to be near to Jesus. This was an act of loving parents. These parents wanted the best for their children, and what they understood about Jesus represented the ‘best’ to them. This account does not detail the efforts made by the parents who were there, but the fact that they were there means that they were not able to be anywhere else. They had made a sacrifice. The parent’s sacrifice were rooted in love because they were sacrificing their time and strength to do something that they felt was the ‘best’ for their children.
Jesus’ disciples overstepped their role on this occasion. The disciples hindered the parents who wanted their children to be near to Jesus. When Jesus saw what was happening he said, Allow the children to come to me. Perhaps the disciples believed that they were helping Jesus by keeping away something that they felt would be a waste of his time. The disciples were taught a lesson that day when Jesus told them, if you want to have a part in my kingdom then you all must have the spirit of a child. This is another example of how our natural judgement can lead us astray. The very nature that the disciples were trying to prohibit, the nature of a child, is the nature that is required to enter in to the kingdom of heaven. As we continue exploring character traits that are ‘essential’, we find in this subject, the spirit of a child, three characteristics which contribute to our understanding of an essential life: Humility, Credulity, and Obedience.
Jesus addressed the need for humility with his disciples when he overheard them discussing who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven: Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Mt.18:2-6). The issue being addressed by Jesus in this situation was pride. Pride seems to be the eternal struggle that we have with our human nature. Selfish pride is divisive and destructive. It distorts the ability to see the Truth, and it closes the ears so they cannot hear the Truth.
The question that arose amongst the disciples was born out of pride, Which one of us will be the greatest? This same account is told in three of the Gospels, and each version varies to a degree about how and when the question was asked. Mark’s account says that they were in a house after making a journey and Jesus asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? (Mk.9:33). Luke’s account says that, Jesus perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child…(Lk.9:47). Whether or not the question was asked directly is not of vital importance, what is significant is that in Mark’s account it says that the disciples held their peace when Jesus asked them the question. They did not answer, and a possible implication of that is that they were ashamed to admit what they had been discussing. Their recognition voiced by their silence reveals that they knew that a desire for place was not appropriate as a disciple of Jesus. Jesus told them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all (Mk.9:35). Jesus did not condemn their desire he corrected the motive. If you wish to be first in the kingdom of heaven then you must serve others. First, does not mean first to enter, first to receive, nor does it mean to reign over others. First means that the Spirit of Truth has subjugated your nature so that your desire is controlled by the Spirit of Truth and not by pride.
Infants are capable of expressing a wide range of emotions, but most of them could be classified as instinctual emotion. Fear, Anger, Happiness, Contentment, Loving(which is distinct from love), Jealousy, Playfulness; these are emotions that seem to be instinctual. There are other emotions and emotive states that develop with self-awareness: Love, Hate, Malice, Pride, Humility, Meekness, Kindness, Patience, and Temperance. These emotions require a developed awareness of self that is more complex than instinct. The idea of self begins with a conscious recognition of one’s self as distinct from others, and that the gratification of that self does not necessarily benefit anyone else. To be proud you must be self-aware. It is difficult to ascribe an age to self-awareness, as it would vary based on the child, but the correlation seems to be that once you are self-aware then you are also capable of pride. The same correlation exists with humility. An infant is humble because it is not aware of any reason to be proud. Although the correlation between humility, pride and self-awareness seem intertwined, the distinction between the opposing ends identifies the spirit which is capable of accepting Truth and the spirit which will reject the Truth.
We have discussed the story of Cain and Abel previously as an example of warring natures. The story of Cain and Abel provides an example of the reaction of one conscious, self-aware individual against another conscious self-aware individual. It is a story of Pride confronting Humility and of Love being attacked by Hate. Cain and Abel were mature men, meaning they were adults. The encounter between them was not the result of two young brothers working out their differences, but rather it was a clash of emotional states. Pride was condemned by Humility, and yet Humility never knew that Pride felt condemned. Pride then, in the form of Cain, took vengeance on Humility(Abel), for the pain of being humbled before God. Instead of allowing the experience to break his Pride, Cain responded as Pride responds, by attacking the object that had wounded his Pride. This reaction exemplifies why the nature of a child is ‘essential’ if we are to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The nature of a child is beautifully humble, and it is towards this point that Jesus directed the attention of his disciples.
Pride and Humility are spirits that develop by exercising them. The fact that they do not exist in an infant is not a credit to the child; however, to emphasize the need for humility, Jesus used the example of a child because children are free from the negative aspects of self-awareness. The spirit of humility is beautiful to see in a child, but it cannot compare to the spirit of humility within an adult. As a self-aware individual, having a humble spirit is developed by conscious choice, and the evidence of its existence is shown by sacrifice, by a search for Truth, and by a conscious effort to serve others.
Another characteristic in the essential nature of the spirt of a child is credulity. As children we believe what we are told, and it is that very nature that is essential to believe in the ideas set forth by Scripture. The belief in God, the belief in creation, the belief in Jesus, the belief in Heaven and Hell; all of these beliefs require the spirit of a child. As children we believe what we are told by those that we trust. Adults receive de facto credit for truthfulness in the mind of a child. When abused this leads children into dangerous and potentially harmful situations.
One example of this is the effect of gossip on a child. Children do not know how to distinguish gossip from truth. When adults gossip in the presence of a child they forget that a child will believe what they hear and repeat it as if it were fact. The consequence from that, is the child is repeating harmful and injurious statements completely without malice, and yet, they are still inflicting harm on the one who is the subject of the gossip. If credulity is abused by adults then children develop a skewed view of truth. Can I believe what I am told? Who can I trust?
When you speak to children about God, their belief in what they are told astounds the adult mind. Adults need faith, and they have to nurture their faith to keep it alive. Children are credulous. They believe what they are told, and they believe it to the point that they are capable of insights in Biblical stories that reveal truths that are far beyond the child’s comprehension. If your mind accepts what you are being told as true, then the logic portion of the brain will make links that will not be hindered by the cynicism which is common among adults.
Disbelief quite often springs from cynicism. Cynicism is another trait that is void in a child. Cynicism develops from experiences with humanity. Cynicism is sometimes an overcompensation response when our conscience is forced to reconcile idealism with reality. Cynicism projects the thought that nothing will ever be like you think it should be, that everything is doomed to fail and that nothing and no one is worthy of our trust. If cynicism is allowed to grow it will overtake the conscience and instill the idea that nothing is worthy of faith.
Skepticism likewise can develop when our experience with reality does not meet the ideal. Skepticism differs from cynicism. Skepticism teaches us to keep our guard up. Skepticism does not necessarily project negative emotion, rather it teaches us that not all people are worthy of trust. Trust is a commodity that must be earned. Skepticism, within reason, is healthy and necessary to protect us from our over-credulous nature. Cynicism, however, as the answer to why idealism and humanity cannot align is a dangerous oversimplification.
The final product of cynicism is that ideals are ridiculous and unattainable, therefore they should be dismissed. The more appropriate response would be a recognition that the ideal is not flawed but our nature inhibits the attainment of the ideal. The ideal then should become a goal marker, or a personal desire, rather than being dismissed. The concept of an ideal is necessary in order to motivate us forward. A child believes that the ideal is possible because they have not experienced failure. The pursuit of the kingdom of heaven, or Truth, requires that credulous nature. The ability to believe that it is possible.
Jesus spoke about offending a child: But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Mt. 18:6). Jesus is referencing the credulous spirit of a child that dwells in those who have faith. If something is done that offends that nature, then the offender is in grave danger because they have undermined the ability for that individual to have faith. If someone is searching for Truth and they are led astray by a “teacher” that has misrepresented themselves as a bearer of Truth, that teacher is guilty of offending the spirit of a child. When the deception is revealed, faith will be replaced by cynicism.
The spirit of a child is fragile, just as the life of a child is fragile, and it can be easily destroyed. Jesus’ warning makes clear how terrible these acts of deception are and how dire the consequences will be for those who commit this offense. The capability of belief is an ‘essential’ part of life, and it is the credulous nature within the spirit of a child that allows for belief to exist.
Obedience is another characteristic of a child like spirit. Peter wrote in his first epistle extolling Christians to: Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (I Pet.1:13-16). Obedience is a difficult subject to tackle because it is where the self first manifests its existence, most commonly through disobedience. Even babies express their will through disobedience, but it would be difficult to claim that it is born out of self-awareness. Obedience requires submission and submission requires humility.
Jesus taught by parable a lesson on obedience, he posed the question and then spoke this parable to the scribes and Pharisees: But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him (Mt.21:28-32). The lesson about obedience in this parable is that submission born out through action is true obedience. The words said by the two sons are only relevant in making an initial distinction between the sons, but the first son was obedient because he submitted to the request of his father.
One lesson from the parable is that our spirit and actions prove who we are, not our words. Again this returns to the discussion of being self-aware, being proud, and being humble. These are choices that we make as adults, but an obedient nature and a submitted spirit are products of a child-like nature. The second son by his words and actions demonstrated that he was capable of deceit and disobedience. The nature of the second son will overtake the child like nature unless we actively defend the spirit of a child within us.
One final example of the child like nature is found in the Old Testament. From the time that God led his people out of Egypt until the beginning of the Monarchy first established under Saul, God referred to his people as the children of Israel. The children of Israel were the children of God, and with that name God instilled the idea of the type of relationship he sought with his people, the relationship of a Father with a child. On multiple occasions in the Bible we read about God defending the fatherless, the widow and the stranger. These are references to those who cannot defend themselves, those who have no standing in the social order. The reference to the fatherless, the orphan, is of specific importance. God as a Father made clear that anyone who abuses the fatherless is accountable to him. In Psalm 10, the writer pleads: Arise o Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble. Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to require it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless (Ps.10:12-14). Also in Psalm 68, A father of the fatherless, and a judge of widows, is God in his holy habitation (Ps.68:5). Again in Psalm 146, The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and the widow; but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down (Ps.146:9). The message of the fatherless helps us to understand how much God cares for the spirit of a child. The fatherless have God as their defender, the point being that if we purpose to guard the spirit of a child in our life then we have the power of Truth and of heaven on our side. The children of Israel proved time and again over the course of their history that God would come to their aid when they had the cry of a child. When the children of Israel repented then God heard their cry and came to their aid.
When Solomon began his reign, we read that God appeared to Solomon in a dream. God asked Solomon, What shall I give you? Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? (I Kings 3:6-9) Solomon referred to himself as a little child, and he made the request of a child, he asked his Father to help him. The humility to ask for help and the obedience to follow instruction made Solomon a wise king. God granted Solomon’s request and added to it, displaying by his action the benevolent nature of the loving Father. God was pleased with Solomon’s request because it reflected the spirit of a child.
Solomon in his writings wrote about the spirit of a child and the need for correction and obedience on the part of the child. In the book of Proverbs Solomon wrote, The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice; and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him (Prov.23:24). A wise child is an obedient child, one that receives correction. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote: Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished (Eccl.4:13). The capacity to receive correction outweighs the highest place of authority amongst men. Being obedient requires humility, it is impossible to separate one from the other.
In the book of Acts we read of Peter and John returning to the disciples after they had been threatened by the counsel to desist from preaching that Jesus was the Christ. They rejoiced with the disciples and had fresh understanding of the psalm that states: Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ (Ps. 2:1). Then the disciples said, For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatening sins: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thy hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus (Acts 4:25-30). Of all the names that could have been used to describe Jesus, all the titles that are descriptors of him in the scriptures, the name that came at this moment was, Thy holy child. It was the spirit of the holy child that the disciples wanted to share with the world, that by that spirit there could be healing, signs, and wonders performed. The holy child Jesus is the ideal example of the true spirit of a child.
These three factors: Humility, Credulity, and Obedience, illustrate the ‘essential’ nature of a child. As self-aware adults we have to fight our own will to return to the spirit of a child. It is a constant struggle where we battle against our pride, against cynicism, against skepticism, and against disobedience. Each of us could make lists upon lists of why we are justified in being proud, or cynical, or skeptical, or even disobedient; however, being able to justify ourselves still does not make it right.
When the true spirit of a child is evident in a mature adult we recognize it and respect it. True humility, credulity and obedience in an adult’s life is beautiful to see, and as Solomon wrote, it is worthy of more honor than an old and foolish king.
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