The commercial you just saw describes a theme we noticed in Jesus’ teachings. Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults. It’s a simple line that is loaded with misdirection — just like Jesus’ teachings often were. On multiple occasions, Jesus used the term “childlike” to refer to a humble and trusting attitude. In one instance, he told a group of followers, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” — the Christian notion of ultimate eternal life and fulfillment. This was a very countercultural message that challenged the values of those who heard him. In his culture, children were not regarded the same way they are today. They were loved by their family, to be certain, but according to many scholars, about a third of children didn’t survive to age 14. Consequently, society treated children more like property than people. So what did he mean?
Christians often refer to their faith as childlike, being humble enough to place one’s trust in a power greater than self. And Jesus’ example of humility and trust taught us something about relationships — something we believe has the power to change our culture.
Jesus loved people fully and wanted them to accept his love void of the cynicism that creeps into just about every human relationship over time. And in turn, he was never cynical about people. He always loved, always forgave, and, like a child who’d never experienced the disappointments, betrayals, and selfish ambitions present in just about every human relationship, he always believed that other people would be capable of loving each other the same way. He even forgave the people who killed him as they were in the process of killing him.
That idea got us thinking about the difference between childishness and being childlike. In other parts of Scripture, the Bible seems to call into contrast these two notions — being childlike is good, but being childish is not. In a culture that values children highly, we often think of acting childishly as being thoughtless or even selfish. On the other hand, children’s innocence makes them capable of demonstrating the kind of compassion, love, and forgiveness that many of us cannot experience ourselves anymore. And when you look at the current climate of our cultural conflict through that lens, we see an unflattering observation.
When it comes to conflict, there are two directions most of us choose from. Some of us just try to avoid conflict at all costs. We keep our opinions to ourselves, and we stay silent when it comes to our convictions. No politics. No religion. Let’s not talk about anything controversial. That’s often considered to be very adult. And some of us act childishly. From angry or snarky social media posts to political differences causing family estrangement to treating those who disagree with us with loud public contempt — participating in cultural conflict has a tendency to bring out the worst in many of us. But if we’re honest, most of us do both of these things in different moments.
Jesus didn’t choose either of these paths. Jesus chose a third way. He was very vocal about what he believed. He spoke truth to power, defended the poor and the marginalized, and represented his identity to others consistently. But he also did something confounding. He approached everyone with unending grace, unconditional love, and that seemingly irrational capacity for compassion, generosity, and forgiveness.
His story demonstrates that we are capable of rediscovering that childlike way — to embrace the qualities of innocence, openness, and trust and to let go of our egos and pride. Jesus taught that fulfillment belongs to people who can trust God with childlike faith and also represent their convictions and beliefs without ever losing their confounding love and respect for another person’s dignity. And we are fascinated by this third way. If you’d like to learn more about what Jesus taught, explore the links below to find a few places to start.