You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isa. 26:3)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! (i John 3:1)
In the natural way of things, the closest we ever come to perfect peace in this world is during an early childhood spent in a good family. The small child of wise and loving parents lives in an envelope of emotional and physical security where all needs are met, protection is the norm, and love is both felt and given. This little person is free to explore within appropriate boundaries, stimulated with enjoyable play, provided with guidance, and safe in hands that are strong and full of affection. In this environment, absolute trust comes naturally.
Those who have had this kind of childhood look back fondly on the freedom from worry and stress, and sometimes wish they could go back there. But that’s not possible.
Or is it?
As believers, I wonder if most of us could use an ongoing course in early childhood education; a progression of learning how to be children of God in the fullest sense. The first lesson might contain an introduction to who God is and who we are.
There’s a good reason why God has consistently revealed Himself as our heavenly Father, and not our boss or leader or commander-in-chief. From the beginning, God has established the nature of our relationship with Him: a personal one of a Father to His children. We call Him Father because that’s the relationship we were created for and the one He wants to have with us.
The parent-child relationship is one of unequal partners during the growing years. The parent is the one in authority, responsible for ensuring all aspects of the child’s healthy development. Children look to their parents for their needs. In a healthy family, children learn to obey, even when they don’t like or understand their parents’ decisions or instructions. Children learn, sometimes repeatedly, that they are not in charge because they’re not equipped to be. Their parents’ knowledge and experience is vastly superior. The fact that they’re unequal to their parents in no way diminishes their worth, but enables and enhances their growth.
God embodies every attribute of the perfect parent. His love, wisdom, and purposes for His children are flawless. He is absolutely trustworthy. His advice is always best. His discipline is designed to correct harmful behavior and build character. His desire is always for His children to reach their full potential. Unlike human parents, God has no emotional baggage, no weaknesses, and is never overwhelmed. He lacks no resources. He’s attuned to our every thought, alert to every danger, equipped for every challenge, prepared for every contingency.
With this kind of awesome parenting available to us, why are we so often fearful, tearful and stressed — at the opposite end of peace? Why is the importance of a childlike relationship with our Father so easily forgotten?
Part of the answer may be that remaining like a small child is both counter-cultural and against our nature. Normal children become more and more independent as they grow; it’s a primary goal of maturing to adulthood. Children begin to separate themselves from their parents as adolescents so they can move on to be adults responsible for themselves. Ideally, they will still love and respect their parents, but they are expected to move past depending on them for their everyday needs.
So it feels wrong somehow when we’re urged to become like little children in our relationship with God our Father. It can seem like moving backward, losing ground, becoming weak, avoiding responsibility.
The truth is, we’re children of God because we have been born a second time. This may happen early or late, but it marks a whole new beginning, of being a child again: this time with God as our Father. We may be physically and socially mature, but we’re spiritual babies. Unlike the physical realm, our spiritual dependency should become greater and greater as we mature. In fact, total dependence on God is the mark of the highest maturity possible. As spiritual children, we will never outgrow our need for active parenting from our Father.
Being born again means starting over. When the breath of the Holy Spirit enters us, we begin a new life. We learn to walk in a new way, holding on to God’s hand, taking the path He has made for us. We see the world with new eyes; people in a new light. We find ourselves infused with an inner joy not dependent on external factors. We’re eager to learn, and feast on the Word and being with other children of God. We have different learning styles and rates of learning; some walk early and others crawl for a long time, but our Father is patient with each one. Many times we refuse His hand and fall down, get bumped and bruised and sometimes seriously injured. But when we reach out to Him again, Father is there with His arms outstretched, ready to take our hands again.
The relationship of each child of God to their Father is a unique bond, unlike any other. This connection is one that influences every other attachment we have. We learn from our Father the best way to relate to and treat others. We come to understand real love and genuine forgiveness. We experience the freedom of not being responsible for fixing other people or righting every wrong; we have Someone much greater we can trust to guide us. What a relief to discover that the government is NOT on our shoulders!
We get into trouble when we try to cram our relationship to God into a narrow slot of mere earthly dimensions. When we try to make this a connection between equals, we rob ourselves of our right to the uninhibited joy, the unquestioned security and the perfect peace of being a small child again. Father, teach me to revel in our very unequal partnership!
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (1 John 3:1)