One of the many that had always intrigued me of the Christian doctrines is the childlikeness that we are told to live by. Don’t get me wrong. Nearly all the doctrines of the Christian faith intrigue me with increasing intensity the more I dig into them. But still, this one has intrigued me a long time as it seems to be somewhat at odds with what most good people consider to be sound wisdom.
You know the old knowledge dissection: you have book smarts and then you have street smarts. This could also apply to Christianity. You could be book smart – biblically literate and well versed in the history of the church. And you could be street smart – understanding the Christian’s place in a world belonging to the enemy and not wasting time on things that don’t advance the Kingdom, keeping your pearls to yourself, as it were.
I am a rather big fan of the singer and songwriter, John Mayer. One of his recent albums features a song by the self-explanatory title of You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down. As clearly implied from its title, the song tells of betrayal and heartache. It is framed from the perspective of Mayer, who is singing this semi-life lesson to what feels like a younger friend. Mayer states that through the process of being let down by someone else (in his case, a woman), one grows and becomes someone better – or a “someone” at all, for that matter. Perhaps the message is heard most obviously in the second verse:
You believed that all people were kind
And that you’d never mess with your mind
You gave her your trust
And she busted your crown
You’re no one ’til someone lets you down.
That certainly sounds like a case against being naïve to me. Mayer is suggesting that no one should ever expect too much of others and, to some extent, should expect them to screw with you a bit. Believing that all people are kind is all too naïve a view for someone further along life’s road. A lesson in street smarts at its best. And just like street smarts, the lessons are better and better learned the older one is. With greater experiences come lower expectations. That’s the good lesson we get here in addition to numerous other sources, not to mention from our own personal life’s trials. Sounds like a good lesson to me.
Except that it’s not a very biblical one.
Now it’s very true that the older one becomes, the less naïve he or she tends to be. That is because they have more experiences in this world, and experiences in a fallen world tend to be sobering at best. The same is true on the other end of the life cycle. What is the mark of a child but naïveté (Other than messiness, of course)? Children have fewer experiences and thus have higher expectations from the world.
And yet we are encouraged to be as children before God:
“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 18:2-4)
Yes, the verse mentions the humility aspect of the child and that humility is truly the mark of the Christian life, the qualitative prerequisite for coming to God and receiving salvation. My favorite book by Andrew Murray is on the topic of humility and he points out that rather than being a virtue in itself, humility is actually the root from which all other virtues must grow. If you have the desire, I couldn’t more strongly recommend reading Humility: The Beauty of Holiness.
But I do think something else is implied in the words of Christ here. Surely one must be humble to enter heaven, but then why not just say that? Why mention the child aspect at all? In a literal sense, children were surrounding Him. But more deeply speaking, why not just point to humility without talking about the child element? After all, there are many a child that are eager to bask in the recognition and acclaim of others, little divas I think they’re called. Likewise, there are many adults who exemplify more humility than a typical child. So what reason, other than humility, did Jesus mention children?
I believe that Christ used the surrounding children as an example to teach us something else: naïveté.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, naïveté has two definitions, the first being “marked by unaffected simplicity” and the second, “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment.”
Ever the fan of Webster’s original 1828 dictionary, I decided to further define it there. The definition reads, “native simplicity; unaffected plainness or ingenuousness.” With a lick of my fingers, I quickly flipped over to “I” to look up “Ingenuous.” Webster defined Ingenuous as, “openness of heart.”
Isn’t that beautiful? To be naïve is to be “unaffected” by the negativities that surround you. Just like a child who knows no better, the naïve individual looks at the world with a bright lens of hope and expectation. “Nothing can go wrong!” Is the beat of her strut. With a wide-open heart and a simple, even plain optimism, the naïve one embraces the world.
Still have your reservations about this Christian life of naïveté and innocence? What is the chief commandment? Right, it’s love. Now what does that actually look like? Well, in the chapter on love, Paul writes something familiar. He said that love “…believes all things, hopes all things…” (1 Cor. 13:7). To truly grasp the love he is talking about, we hope for the best and, further, we believe it deeply, just as would a child.
The final piece to complete the puzzle is rather simple. We cannot be ignorant and naïve just for the sake of being naïve. If we go around thinking like that, we will surely be misused, duped, and taken advantage of. Rather, we are to be naïve in our attitude towards God first. Only then can we live a healthy, naïve life in the world.
The Psalms warn, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Psa. 118:8-9). If we blindly put hope in people, they will fail us. In fact, people will fail us whether we have our hope in them or not. That is just the nature of being human. (Yes, even you too will fail others. Sorry, someone had to tell you.)
Recall John Mayer’s song. You’re no one ‘til someone lets you down. God is the only one who will never let us down, and yet He is the only one who makes us a “someone” in life. Isn’t it amazing?
While the world tells us to be realistic and negative, the Word tells us to be realistic and hopeful.
Don’t give into its bitter message. Don’t give into the cold-heartedness that the enemy encourages. Believe all things, hope all things, expect all things, cherish all things. God is on your side and He wants the best for you. And that’s not foolish or ignorant. That’s faith – childlike and naïve and wonderful.