“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus invited a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4 NIV
When we look at the world around us, it appears to be a world made for adults, but is it? What are adults, after all, but grown children? In a sense, our entire lives on this planet are just one long extended childhood.
As “adults”, we never stop learning, and we never stop growing and maturing, if we are living right. We still have our toys, they are just a little more sophisticated and a lot more expensive, and we love our games to the very end. Part of our problem as adults, I think, is that we forget this, that we are just grown children. We don’t forget entirely, though.
After all, no matter how old we are, we continue to refer to ourselves as boys and girls, within proper context of course. For example, we still say things like “boys night out” and “girls night out.” At a party some time back, the men had gravitated to one area, and the women to another. Someone quipped, “Oh look, girls on one side and boys on the other, just like middle school.” We all laughed. No one was offended, but nobody moved, either. We know we are just big kids, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it.
Now of course we must mature, take on responsibility, learn to take care of ourselves and others. We could not survive without learning these things. Unfortunately, in learning these things, we tend to lose the things that should not change. Our innocence, for example, is often the first thing to go. Curiosity we also tend to lose fairly early on. And then there is humility.
Humility is the one quality of a child that Jesus specifically mentions without which we cannot inherit the kingdom of G-d, and the greater that humility, the higher our rank in that kingdom! This makes perfect sense, because without humility we cannot change, we cannot grow, we cannot learn. Why? Because without humility, we cannot recognize and admit, to ourselves, to others, and to G-d, our need to change, grow and learn; we cannot admit our deficiencies.
To get back to my original premise, the world, I contend, is a place made for children. But to what purpose? The Apostle John provides a clue in his first letter:
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2
This reminds me of a common quote, attributed to “unknown”: “The caterpillar knows nothing of the butterfly.” According to John, we are becoming something, but we don’t quite know what. We will be like Jesus, we are told. But, according to scripture, He was dead and is resurrected. So what, exactly, is that?
Well, if John says we don’t really know yet, then I am not going to speculate. In that respect, though, we are like the caterpillar, but different in one way. Unlike the caterpillar, we know we are becoming something else; like the caterpillar, we just don’t know what. As Paul says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
So, what are we now? According to John, we are children, but children of G-d. If that is the case, then why don’t we act like His children? Let’s face it, even some of the most fervent and faith-filled believers in G-d often do not act like they are His children. Why is that?
Before we can answer that, we should consider what exactly is expected of us, as children of G-d. Consider Mathew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” What?!?!?! I can be pretty good, but perfect? Like G-d is perfect?
As children of G-d, this puts us in a difficult spot. My earthly father was a perfectionist, of which I inherited some of that, but he was not perfect. And I’m right there with him. I inherited these things, these imperfections, from him. But if G-d is our heavenly Father, then why didn’t we inherit His perfection from Him?
The short answer is, we did! We inherit His perfection when we put our faith in Him. But we are still children and, as children, we are still learning about that perfection that is within us.
The problem is, perfection is not something we can directly achieve, or even understand through some effort. We cannot reason ourselves to perfection; we cannot exercise ourselves to perfection; we cannot meditate ourselves to perfection. Perfection is first something that we inherit. But then it must be realized in our lives, and to do that we must recognize it.
The time is coming when we will see that perfection, face to face. When that happens, we will recognize it, and when we recognize it, we will realize it and be perfect, as our Father is perfect. But the key is, we must recognize it.
It seems to me then that, until that time comes, our job is to learn to recognize that perfection here in this life, in ourselves, in others, in all of G-d’s creation. I say in this life because, as explained above, we cannot see yet the perfection of the next life. It is incomprehensible to us.
Now one might say that without a clearly defined picture of what that perfection looks like, we cannot learn to recognize it. To that I would say, well, we do have a picture, a person, actually, that many believe did live that perfection in this life. Do I need to mention His name? And remember, “G-d is love”, a big clue as to what perfection is, in this life, and the next.
The point of all this is that we are children, and as children we often fail to live up to the standard that G-d has set for us. I don’t want to say that because we are children, then this is OK. It is not OK. But our failure is understood and, most importantly, it is forgiven. Because we who have faith in Him are G-d’s children, we are forgiven.
I should take great comfort in this when I fail. Sometimes I do, but often I don’t. I tend to beat myself up a lot. I am getting better at not doing this, but far too often I still get angry at myself, and I get down on myself. I suspect that I am not the only one who does this.
If you are also this way, try doing what I do. Remember you are still a child, and you are still learning. Most of all, as a child of G-d, remember you are forgiven. You are forgiven. Knowing, believing, and acting on this makes all the difference, in this world and the next.