Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Motherhood (I) Suffer the Little Children

This is a 'series' suggested by Karen. Now I have a little more time to write I thought I'd throw together a collection of thoughts I've had over the last few weeks. In no particular order. One thought per post. You never know. I might even have more in my series than my esteemed husband!

One important thing which I realised soon after Jonathan was born was the complexity of his relationship with God. Like all of us, Jonathan is called on by God to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, but unlike us grown ups, the dynamic is different for him as an 8 week old baby.

Before he was born I had thought a lot about the relationship that children have with God and how it is different to and yet similar to that between adults and God. We always need God to know and love us, and to come towards us in his Son: but while adults can consciously repent, articulate their loyalty to Jesus and understand something of the complexity of his death and resurrection for us, children cannot.

Yet, Jesus calls the children to come to him as they are, not when they have grown up. It occured to me that God doesn't twitch back the veil that seems to cover the details of how he relates to young children, but that there are several key categories that are established by Scripture. First, God knows all those he has made. Second, knowledge of God is relational and so open to all human persons in Christ. Third, nothing except sin was a barrier to Jesus' relating to people when he was on earth; age, gender, social class, etc. Fourth, God calls on us to change and rattles our understanding of ourselves, but he does so in terms we can understand and in language which makes sense. Of course, we cannot accept his good news unless he opens our eyes to it, but that is a spiritual rather than intellectual revelation. This is evidenced in the number of people who can articulate the Gospel but utterly reject it. God can communicate to us at our level, because of his knowledge of us.

So, I had concluded that children can know God in Christ, though how this is achieved I could not explain. And I had concluded that Jesus can relate to young children and they respond to this in ways appropriate to their age. They may never even remember it, but that does not make it unreal or unimportant. And because a relationship with the Lord Jesus is a genuine relationship, the knowledge the child gains is not incidental but can be built upon as the relationship grows. In that way it is like Jonathan's knowledge of Mark or me at this age: he can't say who we are and might not even 'know' who we are but he does know us and this will be fleshed out as he grows older and continues to relate to us.* It isn't too surprising to come across people who state that they cannot remember a time when they didn't know and love Jesus.

It is at odds with the curious 'age-of-understanding' which is often wheeled out in the debate on children and salvation. While there is content to the Gospel and an intellectual component which cannot be dismissed, the idea that a person must therefore be of a particular age in order to be saved doesn't seem to be particularly based in Scripture. So, I think it is hard to maintain from Scripture that there is an 'age-of-understanding', where children are OK with God to a particular age and then suddenly they are not. As far as I have been able to discover, this idea of 'age-of-understanding' was generated in the early 1800's. That in itself doesn't mean that it is wrong, but it fits suspiciously well with the culture of the age and has no real basis in Scripture as far as I can see. Therefore, I am not convinced that 'age of understanding' is a good category.

At the end of my reflections I had pretty much come to the conclusion that children could be Christian from a very young age, and that their understanding of this was developed as they grew. I was confident that there would be no way of knowing this for any child with any precision, but that it was best to treat them as Christians and show them how to live lives pleasing to Jesus, all the while calling them to faith. Because no Christian needs to stop hearing the call to faith, and this is part of what it would mean for them to grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus.

I was glad that I had the opportunity to do this thinking.

I could pray with absolute confidence that Jesus would comfort Jonathan as he was wheeled away to have a lumbar puncture at 5 days old. I knew that God was capable of communicating his comfort to someone as young as Jonathan. It was good to have this confidence and not to have to try and think through the whole issue when my emotions were ragged.

And later that night when I told Jonathan his first Bible story (because we were finally in our own room at the hospital and we could have conversations at 4am rather than hushed urgent whispers), I knew that even if he understood none of the words, it was still important for him to hear about Jesus. Not that he'll respond to any one Bible story by itself necessarily, but that it is important for him to hear constantly about the Lord Jesus, who he is and what he has done, in order for him to understand his God and respond in faith, whatever the status of his relationship with God might be.

So, when I think about Jonathan and his relationship with God, I pray that he will respond in faith and that God will open his eyes. But I do so confident that God might not wait till Jonathan is old enough to speak to do so, and that God will save beyond the bounds of what we think is possible or are even able to understand.

(I told Jonathan the story of Jesus saving Zacchaeus, for those who are interested. It seemed appropriate as his name before he was born was 'Tiny'.)

*Our relationship with Jonathan isn't the same as his relationship with God however; the problem of Jonathan's sin is going to affect us in a completely different way compared with the way his sin has affected his relationship with God.