A friend recently told me the story of a little boy who ran out of church to find his mother. He was visibly distraught and could barely speak. When he finally located his mother, she did what she could to calm him down. He tried to tell her what was wrong, but he was so upset the words came out in a blubbering collection of sobs. With some time and patience, she soothed him enough to be able to understand what he had been trying to communicate.
“They’re gonna eat Jesus!”
Unsure of the context and not wanting to jump to any conclusions, she asked him for some clarification. “Who’s going to eat Jesus?”
“The cows!” he said, bursting into sobs again. “The cows are going to eat baby Jesus because he’s laying in their feed trough!”
If you’re like me, your initial reaction to this story was laughter. The laughter might have even been followed by some compassion for the little boy’s misunderstanding of the chronology of history. But the longer I thought about it, the more the story convicted me.
When I was four years old, my parents brought home my baby brother. As a typical oldest child, I watched closely how she cared for him and learned what he should and shouldn’t do as a baby. At that point in the pendulum swing of medical thinking, pediatricians recommended parents put babies to sleep on their tummies. I took note of this.
My brother was born in June, so by the time Christmas rolled around I was a pro at knowing how babies should sleep. As a result, our family’s nativity scene disturbed me. Baby Jesus was laying on His back in the manger. That wasn’t safe. So, I took it upon myself to put Baby Jesus on His tummy (so I’m told). Forget that He was attached to the manger and that meant the manger was now on top of Him. I wanted Jesus to sleep like the doctors said He should.
Both of these stories point to something about childlike faith. We laugh when we should marvel. Kids take the life and humanity of Jesus seriously. They believe that He was vulnerable, that He was real, and that He needed to be protected. To them, Jesus is a person and not a concept.
That leads me to another thought: Sunday School. If we are to have the faith of a child, why do we water down the stories we teach children? The Bible is not a G-rated book, but we’ve turned it into nursery themes and happily ever afters. Take Noah’s ark, for example. In children’s church the story is about butterflies and rainbows…literally. We’ve made it into a tale about zookeeper Noah and the first rainbow instead of a warning of God’s judgment and the faith necessary for obedience.
Just imagine how a child who thinks literally enough to fear that cows would eat Jesus would view the flood if we told the entire story. Would it motivate him to take on the role of a prophet in your family or neighborhood? Would he look at rainbows with a new appreciation of what God’s promise really means: our salvation? Would his heart break for neighbors who turn away from God? Would he better understand the cost of sin?
I know parents want to protect their children and allow them to remain innocent as long as possible, but are we taming their faith in the process? Are we cheating ourselves of their insights? Are we doing justice to the Word of Truth?