but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 ESV)
I do not remember absolutely everything about my memories as a child, but the ones I do remember, I remember how selfish I was at the time, especially around other people’s birthdays. I was so self-centered that even celebrating other people’s birthdays was difficult for me at the time. I was not able to imagine in my childish mind the ability to give honor and glory to someone other than myself. I was so used to having things my way. Now thankfully, I outgrew some of those selfish tendencies and learned to consider the interests of others before those of my own.
Saint Augustine gives a similar thought: “Hence at that time I did reprehensible things, but because I could not understand why anyone should blame me, neither custom nor reason allowed me to be blamed. As we grow up, we root out such things and throw them aside.” It is interesting to consider that we are not born with manners; we have to learn them instead. From observing other infants and reflecting on the memories of my own infancy, I can see how this is generally the case. Such observations rather confirm to me of how Adam’s sin transfers itself into the blueprint of humanity from his generation onward.
So before children can even come to a better understanding of themselves, and hopefully come to a saving knowledge of their Lord and Savior, they ought to be placed under the wise and compassionate care of guardians who will help restrain their inclination to rebel and disobey.
Augustine said this: “But even then were these things good: to try to get by crying even what would be harmful if it were given to me, to be bitterly resentful at freemen, elders, my parents, and many other prudent people who would not indulge my whims, when I struck at them and tried to hurt them as far as I could because they did not obey orders that would be obeyed only to my harm?”
In His mercy, God has generally placed as our guardians people like our elders, parents, and many other prudent people to watch over us in our developmental years. When prudent guardians are lacking, or existing guardians are incompetent, it is more evident to see children being dominated by their indwelling sin.
There is a mercy when people do not always indulge our whims, especially should those whims lead to our harm in one way or another. Even when we as children may not have been able to understand why our orders or our whims were not obeyed by our guardians at the time, our ignorance does not negate our guardians’ wisdom in denying us our requests at times.
From this example of childcare, I better appreciate God’s wisdom in commending believers to adopt a childlike stance towards Him. No matter how old we get, even as we grow to become more independent of our parents and other guardians, we will never outgrow our need to depend on God Himself. There is a sense in which we do not quite outgrow those selfish tendencies of our childhood years, and in fact our culture can at times indulge us too much in our adult years with its emphasis on a consumer, materialist, and individualist attitude.
In the midst of a culture that says “You should be yourself,” and “You should listen to your heart,”when the heart itself is a horrible guide for meaning, purpose, and direction, God calls us to look to Him as our wise and compassionate guardian, the perfect example that our guardians in our childhood years did their best to imitate.