Child: model or sign?

Aniu is a seminary teacher in Nagaland who is doing research at OCMS on forgiveness where there is political assassination (as in his own country).   He recently sent me this paper arising from his work in the church, rather than from his research.   He has given me permission to share it on this blog.

I also add the response I made to his paper.

I am sure that he would be glad to hear directly from anyone who reads this paper.   We might discuss it on the blog and invite him to share in the discussion.  He knows about CTM but he has ‘never been able to understand what it really is about’. Aniu is a very sharp person so that comment is a challenge.

Will the Real Model Please Stand Up?

Kethoser (Aniu) Kevichusa


I was recently askedto speak at a conference for Sunday School teachers. The topic given was ‘Modelling’. I had assumed – correctly, I think – that the conference organisers had intended me to speak on the role and responsibility of modelling that we, grown-ups (parents, teachers, leaders, etc.), have towards the children in our charge. We are to be models, role models, for our children.

So we think. So I thought.

What an eye-opener I was in for when I looked into the stories of Jesus and little children! For Jesus – that Eternal Revolutionary – it is not so much that children are in need of learning from us; we are more in need of learning from them. They are examples for us more than we are for them. We are not their models; they are our models.

For Jesus, children are the models of those who receive and enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says, ‘Whosoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ (Mk.10.15, 14). Becoming like a child to receive and enter the kingdom of God could mean several things. It could mean the necessity of being born again; for to be born again necessarily implies becoming little children again, in the spiritual sense. It could mean that entering the kingdom of God is not based on keeping the Law, just like children in Old Testament Judaism were not required or expected to observe the Law. It could also mean that we are to be utterly dependent on God for all our needs and wants just like our children are utterly dependent on us. It could mean other things too. Whatever it means, children are, according to Jesus, our models when it comes to receiving and entering the kingdom of God.

This is so, partly, because children are presentedin the Gospels as models of those who correctly identify Jesus. When Jesus once came to Jerusalem, we find that ‘children were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna [meaning, ‘Save, we pray!’] to the Son of David”’ (Matt.21.15). On hearing this, the chief priests and the scribes became angry and complained to Jesus. While the top religious leaders and theologians of Jesus’ day were totally blind to the true identity of Jesus, the little children had no such problem. They identify Jesus as who he is – Saviour (‘Hosanna’) and King (‘Son of David’). This biblical point about children’s special ability to recognise and identify Jesus can be tested and proven again and again in real life. In my very limited experience with children, I have found that children have little problem in recognising, understanding, and accepting Jesus for all that he is – God-Man, Dying Saviour, Risen Lord, Second Person of the Trinity, etc. They seldom have any problem recognising and identifying Jesus. It is we, grown-ups, who are the sceptics and cynics when it comes to Jesus and his identity.

According to Jesus, children are also the models of greatness. Once the disciples of Jesus were arguing about who among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus then put a child in their midst and said, ‘Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt.18.4). Jesus’ point here, I think, is not essentially about the reversal of status in the kingdom. He is not, in other words, saying that the humblest are the greatest and the proudest are the least in the kingdom. His point is, rather, this: Greatness is not a kingdom category. In the kingdom of God, the question of who is greater or lesser is a non-issue. Getting into the kingdom is itself more than enough. This point can also be confirmed by our experiences with little children. Ask a child if she wants a huge plot of land; chances are she’ll say no. Give him a bundle of cash; he won’t know what to do with it. Ask her if she wants to be a big officer or a great politician;she probably wouldn’t know what you mean by that. But that, precisely, is Jesus’ point. Ideas of greatness, power, prestige, and wealth that we, grown-ups, take for granted and operate with are, for little children and the kingdom, nonsense.

For me, this recentlesson from the Gospels regarding Jesus and little children has been paradigm-shifting and life-changing. Since then, I have been trying – and heaven knows how much harder I need to try! – to be a learner from children. A very recent and important lesson that I have been learning, and mulling over,from my three-and-a-half-year-old son is this: Children live in a personal universe. My son lives in, relates with, and responds to reality – all reality– in a personal way. For him, it’s not just people who are personal. The whole of creation – sun, moon, trees, rocks, toys, statues, plates, you name it – is personal. He talks to, smiles at, or fights with all these things – and, guess what? These things respond!He is in constant conversation with the whole of reality around him, often even urging me to do the same. (Oh yes, it’s all very easy to dismiss this characteristic of children as ‘childhood fantasy’. But think again.)

Observing my son, I am beginning to ask: Is thatnot precisely the way the God of the Bible relates with reality – all reality? In creation, God spoke, and things happened – reality responded. God speaks to the sun and stars (read Job, for example), and waves, whales and worms (read Jonah, for example) – and they respond.The whole of creation praises and declaresthe glory of the Lord (read the Psalms, for example). In the Gospels we also find that Jesus had the power and ability to speaknot only to humans, but also to spirits, storms, stones, and sickness.Jesus, too, lived in a personal universe.But is this ability and power limited only to God, Jesus, and children? Not so, I think.God, I believe,originally intended us to get things done through the speaking of the word. (This, incidentally, is crucial in understanding our role and vocation as rulersin the world; for rulers rule by speaking – they speak and it is done.)God intended Adam to be a ‘namer’ (a ‘speaker’ upon the world), but Adam ended up a ‘doer’ (a ‘sweater’ under the world). God wanted Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses hit it. Jesus said that his followers could speak to mountains to be moved. Such examples are littered throughout the Bible. (He who has eyes let him see! She who has ears let her hear!) And they give a vital clue about reality: We live in a personal universe. Creation is personal. Reality is personal. The question now is: How then shall we live?

Haddon Willmer replied:

Many thanks for sending me this paper.  It is very interesting.  Are

> you aware of the Child Theology Movement?  I would like to share it

> with some of my friends there and maybe some will want to get in touch

> with you.  Would you be willing for me to do this?

> There are two points or three on which I would like to comment.


> First it is often said,  as you do,  that ‘children have little problem in

> recognising, understanding, and accepting Jesus forallthat he is –

> God-Man, Dying Saviour, Risen Lord, Second Person of the Trinity, etc. They

> seldom have any problem recognising and identifying Jesus.’   I doubt this.

> They do not object when they are given these words about Jesus, but that is

> because the words are beyond their capacity.   Whether we adults know what

> we are saying by these words is also a good question.   In my view, the

> nature of the faith of children is more complex and mysterious than

> this suggests.


> Secondly, what you say about the child’s personal universe, and about

> how it is a challenge or invitation to us, is very important.  But it

> does callfor a lot of hermeneutic reflection.  The world is not

> wholly I-Thou – there is also the I-It. The sense in which everything

> is done by word is again complex.


> Thirdly, in the bookKeith Whiteand I are writing, we are arguing

> very strongly from Matt 18 that child as model is not the best or

> fullest way of reading it.  Jesus placed a child in the midst of a

> theological argument about thekingdomofGod, and the child is there

> less of a model for the disciples than a sign of the kingdom they are to seek by following Jesus in

> the way of the Cross.

About This Author

Haddon is regular contributor to the Child Theology Blog, he lives in Leeds, UK and has been writing and thinking about theology for much of his life. For more information see our page 'About our Bloggers'.

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