People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17
In this passage, Jesus says that we cannot enter “the Kingdom of God” unless with receive it like a little child. A lot of people think that when Jesus says “the Kingdom of God”, he is referring to the place that believers end up after they die, but that is a mistake. A kingdom is, by definition, the place ruled by a King. The Kingdom of God is therefore the place that is under the rule of God. Or to put it more succinctly: everything everywhere. That means that the danger for us is this: if we do not become like little children, we will be right smack in the middle of God’s Kingdom, and yet not be part of it.
How is this possible? What does it mean to become as a little child? I think we can find an answer to both questions by looking at the story of Fall of Man in Genesis 3.
For some indeterminate amount of time Adam and Eve lived with God in a state of – for lack of a better term – ignorant bliss. They were apparently completely naked, completely unaware of it, and completely taken care of. Frankly, that sounds a lot like a little child.
Then, after eating of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they became aware that they were naked, they were ashamed of being naked, and they were afraid of God. From that point forward their work became difficult, childbirth painful, relationships frustrating and lives terminal.
Many people seem to think that the Fall of Man was brought about because Adam and Eve learned about evil. But that is a misreading of the story. The Fall of Man was the result of learning about both Evil and Good. Prior to the Fall, they had no concept of either Good or of Evil. Some things may have been more fun or less fun, more painful or less painful, but the categories “Good” and “Evil” were entirely foreign to them.
God provided for them; they lived in a state of utter dependence on Him. They made no judgements about whether any given experience was Good or Evil. In this way, they were like little children. It was only when “their eyes were opened” and they began to make decide for themselves whether or not something was Good or Bad that their idyllic existence was shattered.
I don’t care whether you read this story as literally true or as a metaphor. I think it accurately describes the difference between trusting God and trusting ourselves. Adam & Eve – and by extension, all their offspring – lost out on the Kingdom of God when they started judging between Good and Evil for themselves rather than leaving that job to God.
So to return to the original question: what does it mean to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child? It means we accept all things from the Hand of God and make the choice to trust in God’s care for us rather than placing our trust in our own ability to discern Good and Evil.
Adam and Eve, before learning about Good and Evil, most likely didn’t spend much time on retirement planning or business planning or estate planning or planning of any kind. I imagine they simply lived inside every single moment without taking thought for the next moment. No doubt there were painful events – a fall, a cut, a bruise, a burn – but God was there to comfort, to hold, to heal and to teach.
Frankly, this is a very difficult concept for us adults. We treasure the knowledge we have gained from our experience almost more than anything else in life. We trust that our hard-won battle scars were worth the fight. We try to arrange our lives to experience as much Good and as little Bad as possible. But the reality is that we don’t have near the amount of control over circumstances as we would like and – in spite of our obsessive efforts, shit happens.
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:28-29
I have always struggled to trust God. I have trusted myself, my own hard work, my own knowledge, my own experience, my own wisdom, my own talents and strengths and abilities. I’ve made mistakes that have led me into situations I really wish I had avoided. I have also made mistakes that have turned out to be blessings beyond measure. I have made wise decisions that have turned out well, and wise decisions that have turned out poorly. Experience has taught me that I have very little control even though control is the one thing I struggle so mightily to maintain.
In short, I have been living right smack in the middle of the Kingdom of God, but have failed to experience it or enjoy the benefits of it. It’s time for that to change. To become like a little child, I must trust God, quit worrying about the future and live inside every single present moment. God rules in the Now, not somewhere in the imagined-but-unrealized future. His Kingdom is Now. (“The Kingdom of God is among you.”) If I am to enter into the place where He reigns, I have to live fully in this moment, taking “no thought for the morrow” but rather just investing myself in the Now and trusting that God is there, watching, caring, loving – and handling all the planning that needs to be handled.