“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis
There are certain life experiences that are so profound that no matter how much time passes, the vividness of the memories keeps the moments forever fresh in one’s mind.
January 10, 2008 is one such life experience—it was the day I became a father and held my daughter Michaela in my arms for the first time. As any parent can attest to, those first moments gently holding a fragile newborn in one’s arms are as precious and surreal as any of life’s moments.
Fast forward to 2017, and that little bundle of joy is now an energetic 9 year old, who along with her 5 year old brother Levi, is full of curiosity and inquisitiveness.
Without reservation I can say that my parenting has taught me more about God and the nature of faith than any book or bible college has. There is something profoundly sacred and beautiful about observing the innocent sense of wonder and inquisitiveness in a child.
While my children have displayed this sense of wonder and inquisitiveness in a variety of settings, it is often during our bedtime routines, where this wonder and curiosity of my children most memorably manifests itself. More often than not, either during bedtime prayers or reading, one of the kids will interrupt with an enthusiastic, ‘Daddy, I have a question’.
More often than not, the question that follows is one expressing deep theological inquisitiveness (I’m still trying to determine whether this is due to the fact that my kids share the theological curiosity of their father or have discovered an effective means of delaying the inevitable ‘lights out’ moment—I like to think it’s the former, but in all honesty it is probably some combination of both!).
Over the years such questions have included:
Who Made God?
What Was God Doing Before Creating the World?
Is Jesus God or God’s Son?
Why is the Snake Talking? Is This Story Real?
From an early age I have tried to make space for wonder-filled questions from my children. I hope and pray they never lose this sense of awe, wonder and curiosity related to the things of God and faith.
Sadly, my own observations and personal experiences have led me to believe that more often than not, the journey into adulthood results in the erosion of childlike wonder and curiosity, morphing into the dangerous and debilitating idea that strong faith is proportionate to the degree to which one is intellectually and psychological certain about one’s beliefs. This misguided understanding of faith inevitably inhibits (and in many cases forcefully prohibits) the honest questions borne in awe-filled hearts of inquisitive minds.
In his excellent book, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think, Jonathan Martin recounts his own childhood experiences of awe, innocence and wonder, as a young boy freely riding his new Schwinn blue and silver bike.
In expounding upon Jesus call for childlikeness as a prerequisite for entering His Kingdom (Matthew 18:3), Martin writes:
[Jesus] wasn’t saying that we need to be irrational, check our brains at the door, and hang on to naïve fairy tales. But I think in a way He calls us back to that moment of wonder and mystery when we encountered God with the innocence of childhood.
These words came vibrantly alive for me one day in the spring of 2013. I was begrudgingly doing some necessary spring cleaning work in my garage while listening to a podcast from Jonathan Martin at the time he was preaching through the themes in his book, Prototype. Looking for any excuse to delay the inevitable garage cleaning needed to be done, I took a break to spend some time playing with my kids. My daughter Michaela was joyfully doing some dizzying laps around our driveway on her bike, excited that another Northern Ontario winter was winding down. As she was biking, my son Levi and I were tossing a baseball back and forth in the garage.
It was at that moment that Martin, began recounting his ‘boy on the bike’ experiences of childlike awe and wonder, sharing his experiences and disorientation and reorientation in his life and ministry. Having been in the midst of my own personal and pastoral season of deconstruction and disorientation, I was so emotionally wrecked in that moment, to the point where I was unable to continue throwing the baseball with my son.
Like many of the most sacred revelatory moments I have experienced, it was one which happened in obscurity, in a mundane moment of everyday life, where God used a podcast and a moment with my children to remind me of the simple, yet profound nature of faith—childlike wonder, awe and trust in God’s grace and goodness, as opposed to the quest for intellectual and psychological certainty of beliefs which is so often equated with strong faith in the world of evangelicalism in the west.
As I look back, that moment as vivid as it still is for me, was a Kairos moment, an experience of spiritual breakthrough where I was acutely awake and aware of the presence and voice of God, reminding me through the innocent eyes and experiences of my children, of the nature of faith.
The rise in the number of individuals in Canada classified as the ‘Nones & Dones’ (those with no religious affiliation or those who are done with church/religion) has been well documented. For many of these spiritual refugees, they have either left their faith community or have no desire to align themselves with a community of faith. Often because in their years of spiritual formation in a faith community, there was no room, nor empathy made available for honest questions, dialogue and doubts on the journey of life and faith. It seems as though I encounter people on a weekly basis whose stories have basically the same elements:
‘I grew in up in this church/denomination where I was given a set of doctrines and theology to hold onto at all costs, since my faith depended on my being certain of these beliefs. The problem was life happened and when I went away to college and/or starting reading and wrestling with the biblical narrative, I bumped up against some life experiences and/or passages of Scripture that incited some real questions and doubts. And since I was taught to believe that honest questions and doubts were not only unwelcomed, but were the very antithesis of faith itself, I felt I could no longer be a faithful church attender and/or follower of Jesus’
My heart breaks each and every time I hear this story in its various forms, because to a certain degree, it contains elements of my story. Thankfully, I and many others, are coming to the beautiful realization that faith does not require being certain about one’s beliefs. In fact, biblical faith is more appropriately witnessed and expressed as childlike trust, awe and wonder on a journey towards and with God, rather than the fortress dwelling faith system that is defined by a sense of certainty of beliefs, which squashes all questions and doubts, while frowning upon childlike awe and wonder.I am coming to the beautiful realization that faith does not require being certain about one’s beliefs. Click To Tweet
If we are to represent Jesus and his beautiful kingdom well in this day and age, we need to recover a robust understanding of faith that focuses on trust rather than certainty, a faith that makes space and gives permission for awe, wonder, questions and honest doubt.
In subsequent posts, I hope to deconstruct the misguided notion that faith equals certainty, examining the biblical, cultural and psychological rationale behind such understanding, while reconstructing a model and understanding of faith grounded in the covenantal love of God revealed in Christ.