- 13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
- Compare: Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17
Jesus on Children & Faith
Modern imagery of Jesus commonly has him sitting with children and this particular scene, repeated in both Matthew and Luke, is a primary reason why. Many Christians feel that Jesus has a special relationship with children because of their innocence and their willingness to trust.
It is possible that Jesus words are meant to further encourage his followers to be receptive to powerlessness rather than seeking power that would be consistent with earlier passages. It is not, however, how Christians have usually interpreted this and Ill confine my remarks to the traditional reading of this as praising innocent and unquestioning faith.
Should unbounded trust really be encouraged? In this passage Jesus doesnt simply promote childlike faith and trust in children themselves but also in adults by declaring that no one will be able to enter the kingdom of God unless they receive it as a child something most theologians have read to mean that those who wish to enter heaven must have the faith and trust of a child.
One problem is that most children are naturally inquisitive and skeptical. They may be inclined to trust adults in many ways, but they are also prone to continually ask why that is, after all, the best way for them to learn. Should such natural skepticism really be discouraged in favor of blind faith?
Even a general trust in adults is probably misplaced. Parents in modern society have had to learn to teach their children to be mistrustful of strangers not talking to them and not going off with them. Even adults who are known by children can abuse their authority and harm the children entrusted into their care, a situation which religious leaders are certainly not immune to.
If faith and trust are necessary for entering heaven while doubt and skepticism are impediments to it, it is arguable that heaven may not be a goal worth striving for. Giving up skepticism and doubt is a definite harm to both children and adults. People should be encouraged to think critically, doubt what they are told, and examine claims with a skeptical eye. They should not be to told to abandon questioning or to give up on doubting.
Any religion which needs its adherents to be unskeptical is not a religion that can be regarded very highly. A religion which has something positive and worthwhile to offer people is a religion that can stand up to doubt and meet the challenges of skeptics. For a religion to discourage questioning is to admit that there is something to hide.
As to the blessing that Jesus gives the children here, it probably shouldnt be read simply in a literal way. The Old Testament is a long record of God cursing and blessing the nation of Israel, with the blessing being a way to help the Jews develop a prosperous, stable social environment. More than likely this scene was meant as a reference to Gods blessings upon Israel but now, Jesus himself is doing the blessing and only to those who meet certain requirements in terms of beliefs and attitudes. This is quite different from the earlier divine blessings which were predicated primarily upon being a member of the Chosen People.