People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 NIV translation)
Jesus uses some pointed language here: if you don’t receive the kingdom like a child, then you will never enter it. Of all the criteria Jesus could have chosen, he went with childlikeness.
Not knowledge (the Scribes had plenty of that)
Not righteous deeds (the Pharisees took that to a high art)
Not glory and power (the Romans reveled in such things)
What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child?
As I’ve pondered this concept over the years, several aspects have come to me. Clearly humility is a part of this. Jesus uses the same metaphor in Matthew 18 when answering his disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He brings a child to their midst and says, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4 NIV). Here, humility is pictured as not grasping for position or prominence, but maintaining an attitude of teachableness and readiness to follow Christ’s lead.
Another aspect of childlike faith is a contented dependence. Children readily understand how dependent they are upon their parents. In their dependence, they trust their parents to provide. This sense of childlike faith is reflected in Psalm 131: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” (Psalm 131:1-2, NIV)
The weaned child is an interesting metaphor. A nursing child cries out for food and for comfort. But when a child is weaned, they have learned to be comforted not by what they can get from mother, but rather by simply being present with mother. This child delights in companionship with their parents.
All these are indeed aspects of childlike faith. Alan Noble, however, clued me in to one that I had missed. I’m kicking myself for having missed it, because it ties in to the whole idea of enchantment that I’ve been meditating on. In fact, it might just be the key to understanding enchantment. Childlike faith is enchantment with existence itself.
Alan touches on this in his book Disruptive Witness. After a few chapters exploring the modern malaise of disenchantment with the universe, he turns his attention to the idea of recovering visions of fulness. And one of the first examples he gives is that of childlike approach to the world:
“…children naturally perceive and delight in the irreducible wonder of life. Observe a toddler’s joy in simply walking or jumping. My nearly two-year-old daughter can hardly get both her feet off the ground when she jumps. It looks more like skipping in place, and half the time she lands on her bottom. But when she is “jumping” she can hardly contain her pleasure, because her body is amazing. Her pure excitement overwhelms my wife and me — we can’t help but cheer her on, even though her jumping is, technically speaking, pretty sad. In these moments the praise we give is not feigned praise for her jumping; we praise her for taking delight in the goodness of being…. At some level she is able to see the wonder in the world that we have become numb to.” (Disruptive Witness, pg 63)
There it is – enchantment with existence. The idea that the world is overflowing with wonder, amazement, challenge, and delight. The idea that each breath is a present, each heartbeat is a gift. The idea that each day is a playground of discovery in which we hunt for the treasures the Father has hidden for us.
What would it be like to cultivate such an outlook? How would you have to order your day to experience moments of such delight?