Childish and childlike are similar words with vastly different meanings. The former encapsulates all the worst things about children – petulance, immaturity, obnoxiousness, selfishness, and so on. It is antithetical to faith. The latter, though, describes all the beautiful things about children – trust, joy, innocence, curiosity, wonder, forgiveness, and so much more. This word, childlike, is the flavor our faith in God ought to have. What follows are five characteristics of childlikeness that make faith robust, rich, and full of life. Like a child.
1) Children ask honest questions.
By honest questions I mean questions that do not challenge or subvert or undermine. They simply want to know truth. Yes, children are sinful and do challenge authority, but think of their curious questions, their eager questions, their innocent question. Each one has a single motive: teach me. They simply want to know truth.
We forget this as adults because we encounter (or ask) so many loaded questions – questions with ulterior motives, meant to challenge, designed to undermine or embarrass. We become passive-aggressive with our questions or just confrontational. Children are not like this. They are just eager to know truth.
2) Children ask openly.
Unlike adults, children do not fear for their reputation or image and do not care who is around when they ask a question. This can create some awkward situations when they wonder “why is that lady wearing that” or get curious in the feminine care aisle at Target. But they simply want to know and think nothing at all of who knows they have a question. There is no shame and no embarrassment until we teach them to be embarrassed.
Children also focus only on the one they are asking with complete trust that an answer will be forthcoming. This is part of the reason they ask so openly; they are only thinking of one person, the one who can provide their answer. Imagine if we prayed like this and were so singly focused on God that what others thought or who else might know of our questions, ignorance, worries, or doubts would be of no consequence.
3) Children ask from a place of vulnerability with the expectation of an answer.
When they are little, children see parents as omniscient. They expect parents to know everything, but over time are forced to come to grips with all the things parents don’t know. Children instinctively know that their knowledge is limited, even if they can’t articulate it; that’s why they ask so many blasted questions. So to find out Dad and Mom can’t answer all their questions takes a position of vulnerability and makes it feel uncertain and tenuous. They start with total trust, then grow out of it.
We don’t have to grow out of vulnerability and total trust in God, though. We can grow in it. Unlike parents, God does know everything, including so much that is beyond our capacity to ask or understand. We can be utterly dependent, or rather admit our dependence. We can be completely vulnerable, honest, and open with our questions and we can expect that God will answer us with precisely what we need. Childlike faith is that which knows we don’t know, knows He does, and asks with the expectation that the answer He gives will be the right one.
4) Children do not know what is best for them most of the time, but they trust their parents.
Parents generally know what is best for kids, or at least they know better than kids do. No candy for breakfast, don’t play in the street, don’t eat that glue, don’t poke the cat, eat your veggies, do your homework, don’t hit your sister. Children get frustrated with these commands even though they are for their good just like we get frustrated with how God knows what is best for us and commands us accordingly.
Children don’t always understand why parents say “no” or “do this.” Often the reason is simply beyond their maturity or capacity for understanding. And despite griping and moaning, if parents are loving and generally stable, kids trust them. Kids have an incredible capacity for trust.
We understand even less about God’s reasons because of the depth and breadth of His wisdom and in the infinity of His mind. And we certainly gripe and moan and outright rebel against Him and occasionally throw a tantrum too. But because of His Word, His character, His promises, and all the ways He has shown His love we can absolutely trust Him.
5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.
Even if children are frustrated or confused by parents, so long as the parents show love the children will trust them deeply and take pleasure in their presence. Kids are home with parents. Three years ago my family moved from Illinois to Tennessee. At the time my daughters were seven and four, and the move was pretty smooth for them. They were happy throughout the process with just a couple exceptions. That’s because they were with their parents. They were safe and loved and secure. Imagine if we had handed them each a duffel bag and a bus ticket and sent them to Tennessee. It would have killed them, maybe literally.
How much more should we take pleasure in God’s presence even when we cannot understand His reasons or His plan. We know His love, shown for us in Jesus that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We know His promises: I will never leave you or forsake you, I will be with you always, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ, fear not for I am with you. God is the answer to our questions and doubts and the soothing for our anxieties. His presence and love is what we need, always.
Children get this. They understand so little yet they are so much more right than we are. We have grown out of faith in so many ways.