The ‘Like Little Children’ Conundrum image

The ‘Like Little Children’ Conundrum

I have always been a fairly capable sort of person, the kind teachers love because they can give you a worksheet or set of instructions and leave you to beaver away while they deal with the rest of the class. And I’ve often found myself conducting my Christian walk in much the same way – I know what I’m supposed to be doing, there’s a handbook available if I get stuck, but I can go for years without seeking any real input from God.

While my head knows this is not how it is supposed to be, and my heart yearns for a closer connection with God, there is a strong part of me that thinks maybe, like my teachers, God is quite pleased that he doesn’t have to be giving me his attention all the time and can devote it instead to the ‘squeaky wheels’ who need constant oiling.
Then I hear a sermon telling me God wants me to come to him like a little child; he wants to be my daddy, taking me by the hand and leading me everywhere, picking me up when I fall down, feeding me and clothing me and doing everything for me. There are plenty of sermons to that effect floating around.
On the other hand, I hear an equal amount of teaching about growing in maturity. Sharing at a recent Newfrontiers conference, Mike Pilavachi talked about his delight in watching little children. At the age of about three or four, they are cute and so much fun, “But if at the age of twenty they are still acting like they were three, I’d be worried,” he said.
Pete Grieg speaks of teaching his son to ride a bike, using this as an illustration of one of the ways in which “God is committed to helping us mature”:

We’ve taken the stabilizers off the back wheel and, as a result, he’s wobbling along all over the place… I run along the road holding him, but I’ve noticed he doesn’t really try to balance as long as he can feel my hands on his back and see me by his side… So I’ve taken to running with my hand lightly on the back of his seat so that he can neither feel me nor see me.1

Pete’s ultimate goal is that his son will be able to perform this task completely independently. He will cycle away, never again thinking to look for his father’s assistance, and that will be a sign of success. This is the mindset I realise I have bought into - that God’s ultimate goal is for me to be able to work independently of him.
The trouble, as with all analogies, is that if you take them too far, you miss the truth. Parent-child relationships do indeed go through stages: at first the child is completely dependent on the parent; the parent teaches the child more and more skills, and gives him or her more and more independence until such time as the child is able to move out of the house and live entirely independently. At this point, in a healthy relationship, the child will in turn seek out relationship with the parent and relate to him or her as a friend (Mike Pilavachi went on to say, in the talk mentioned above, “God has lots of children but not many friends; and he’s looking for friends”). The child is independent, but enjoys the company of the parent. Better still, the two begin to learn from each other’s wisdom, knowledge and experience and may become interdependent, before the health of the parent declines and he or she in turn becomes dependent on the child.
This is not the cycle we go through with God. Christian maturity does not mean reaching a point where we are independent of him, where we can carry out all the tasks we need to without recourse to his assistance or even his presence And there is certainly not going to come a moment when he is helpless and reliant on us. The idea is not that we develop into autonomous, separate individuals, at which point he will be free to enjoy his retirement, enjoying a quick phone call or visit from time to time. I hate to contradict a qualified speaker like Mike Pilavachi, but I firmly believe that God doesn’t just want friends; he calls us to something far deeper and far greater than that. In my next post, we’ll look at what that might look like, and how this tension between dependence and maturity can be resolved.


    1   Pete Greig, God on Mute p. 243.

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