When observing children, we are quickly seized by the question, “What have we grownups lost?” In short, we have lost a lot. Then it’s interesting to ask, “What can we reclaim?”
One of the first things that strikes me is that children are willing to forgive almost limitlessly. At the same time, it would never occur to a child that the forgiving love of his father and mother might come to an end if he were disobedient too many times. Taken together, these two elements comprise a package of perfect trust. If we would be willing, again and again, to forgive without hesitation the failings and shortcomings of people we interact with daily, we would be less afraid and would once again dare to live quite practically in a fresh new beginning of the childlike spirit. Children are like open books. They stand in front of us with wide-open eyes, letting us look freely into their souls and their motives. Children will immediately say what they think. They will not keep quiet about something only to speak about it later behind that person’s back. Cowardly deception is not childlike. If a child sees something that should not be, she will immediately speak up without attempting to use diplomatic words.
Jesus’ disciples were often unchildlike in this regard, as we probably are too. For example, they asked themselves which one of them was the greatest. How did Jesus respond? He called a little child, placed him in the middle, and said, “Unless you change and become like little children . . .” (Matt. 18:1–4). Whoever is determined to always have the final word cannot enter the kingdom of God. In the letters to the churches recorded in the book of Revelation, we read, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen!” (Rev. 2:4–5). Whoever does not renounce all greatness of any sort, be it in accomplishments, in comparing, or in striving for recognition, cannot partake of the kingdom of God. Be like a child.
Of children we read in the bible that “their angels always see the face of my Father” (Matt. 18:10). Regardless of how we interpret it, this statement illustrates how close to God a child is. A child is not enslaved by a covetous will. He clings neither to himself nor to an idol. Material things are not his center point. To be a child means letting go of a purely material basis to one’s thoughts and ambitions; a new life can then begin.
It’s interesting that children find God neither as the natural world itself, nor do they find God in nature; rather, they find him above and behind all of nature. That is a true basis for scientific thought.
When the disciples whom Jesus had sent out ran into difficulties in a certain village, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Horrified, Jesus replied, “Have you forgotten whose spirit you are children of?” (Luke 9:54–55). Have you forgotten that you have received the childlike spirit? Have you forgotten that children do not have a spirit of revenge? This is a core problem today. Whoever watches the news with this in mind can observe it daily. But we also see it daily in our own small worlds.
Children love the light. They do not like darkness. They hunger for life and thirst for light. They have no joy in the things of darkness. A true child loves the light.
These remarks are based on a talk given by Eberhard Arnold in 1935.