Friday, February 28, 2014
Not Afraid. . . The Power of Trust
The child laughs because it never enters his mind that this is dangerous or that something bad might happen to him. This is no blissful ignorance. The prospect of being tossed up in the air only to fall freely to certain harm does not occur to him because his focus is on the face of his father or mother (the one who playfully tosses him into the air). The child instinctively trusts the arms that hold him, the ones that gently toss him into the air, and the arms that safely enfold him as he falls back.
When Jesus says Unless you become like a little child (Greek infant or toddler), you cannot enter the kingdom of God, our Lord is speaking of this wonderful trust that a child has. On the other hand, we as adults know too much to be so trusting. We have become captive to the power of fear and we find it nearly impossible to trust anyone -- even the Lord.
The truth is that from an earthly perspective, life is a free fall. We are quite literally being tossed into the air by all sorts of things we cannot control. Job, family, health, safety -- they are all a crap shoot (at least from an earthly perspective). We walk in danger all the way (as the hymnwriter put it). Without the Lord as the focus of our eyes, hearts, and minds, we would be left to the terror of this free fall called life after the fall (literally). Without the safe and secure arms of our Heavenly Father acting in Christ Jesus His Son, we would quite literally be captive to everything that can go wrong -- even and especially death.
The challenge of the faith is not to teach it to the small children but to learn from them how to trust without fear. The child tossed into the air by mom or dad is the perfect example of the power of faith to calm our fears. Children have not learned as well as we have the power of such fear and the manifold "what ifs" that seem so effective in making us prisoners to our fears. But their time will come. We will teach our children well -- so well, indeed, that by the time they are teenagers they will trust no one -- not us and not even God -- without a second thought. We have become very adept at instilling our own fears into our children but we struggle to learn from them the power of faith and trust.
Those who refuse infant baptism generally do so in large measure because they find it impossible to accept that a child can believe (the small children of infancy and toddlerhood). On the other hand, I find it hard to accept that any adult believes! It is an impossible work to transcend the power of our fears and believe in the Lord Jesus (Luther's explanation to the Third Article of the Creed). It is only the confounding and mystifying work of the Spirit who teaches faith to those who have long ago refused to trust anyone. I sometimes think that it is adults who should not be baptized and children who should be baptized without hesitation! Such is the power of fear.
The infant does not fear because he trusts, because his focus is on the one who holds him, and because he believes that the grace that holds him is greater than the dangers that surround him. Sure, this faith is not formed into words to be confessed or truth to be witnessed but it is there. Our Lord says whoever causes one of these little ones (infants and toddlers) who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to tie a millstone about his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea. If for no other reason than Jesus tells us, we believe that these infants do believe in Him -- the faith of Scripture which is trust if not the faith we define wrongly as knowledge, understanding, and consent.
I fear because I struggle to believe that God's will is good and gracious and has nothing for me to fear. I fear because my focus is less on the Lord and more on the dangers and threats all around me all the time. I fear because I have lingering and nagging doubts that the Lord's power is great than the power of my enemy and enemies. I am afraid because the trust that was God's gift to me has been whittled away by the very people whom the Lord set around me to protect me. Sure, they did it because we live in a dangerous world where trust is easily exploited to our harm but, that said, it is still a crying shame. I wrestle every day with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ, to trust in His good and gracious will, and to know that His power is greater than all my enemies. Sometimes I wish I was that toddler tossed into the air by my dad. Those were the days when fear was minimal and trust was strong and I had confidence in the arms that held me.
To overcome my fears I spend a great deal of time in the Word of the Lord, singing the faithful hymns of old, praying with the faithful, and gathered around the Table of the Lord. Were it not for the means of grace and the Church's life of worship, I might have long ago given into doubt and fear forever. But in this grace in which I stand the Lord is at work bringing forth the new man created in Christ Jesus in the waters of baptism, undoing the power of fear, the reign of its terror, and its suspicion so that I might become again like a little child. In this respect, I pray never to grow up.