Thursday, October 15, 2020

Maturity, Wisdom, and Childlike Humility

In an old science fiction comedy movie from about 20 years ago, there is a scene where a scientist makes a comment about some visiting aliens. He says, "by definition, an advanced species will be peaceful". Soon afterward, the aliens land on the Earth and proceed to try to destroy every person on the planet. The irony is sometimes missed since the two scenes are a few minutes apart, but the point is clear if you make the connection. That is, however, the way most people today tend to think: technology equals peace and happiness.

Modern mankind tends to have the perspective (except for a few of us who refuse to accept every idea that is thrown at us from the scientific establishment) that newer is always better, and thus grown ups are always smarter than little kids (just ignore the fact that older folks today largely want to do everything possible to look like they are a teenager!). There is a sense in which age often leads to wisdom (though that is becoming less and less true). Yet, there is more to the picture than merely to say older people are smarter than younger people.

Being "advanced" does not always mean that one is more wise, and being older does not always mean that one is spiritually mature. There is actually a spiritual strength that becomes harder and harder to maintain the older that we get. Our advanced technology is clearly not a sign of peacefulness. As I have said more times than I can count, we today have become barbarians: barbarians with cellphones. It is remarkable that people still think that since we have technology that we are automatically wise; the massive amounts of hate and foolishness evident in modern society proves that to be false.

Yet, Jesus encourages us to become like "little children" more than once in the gospels. Let us think about children for a bit. We all know that children left to themselves are unable to learn for themselves what is right and wrong. They need to be guided and directed in what is best for them, because although they may be able to figure a few things out, there are some big issues that they need help with. This world is a dangerous place to live in, and no one is born with the knowledge of what happens when you walk into the tiger pen at the zoo.

Our spirits are like a child. They need help and guidance. Yet, because we are fallen, we do not always behave as a child. Instead we sometimes slip into wanting to be a grown up ("don't tell me what to do, I can make my own decisions in life!"). This means that each of us needs to recognize our need for help from others. When we fail to do that, that means we are acting "like an adult" when Jesus wants us to be like children. When this happens we are denying our basic needs before God.

This is the reason why teenagers tend to fall into a rebellious streak at times. They are still children by age (so they have very little experience in the world), but they want to be an "adult" and make their own choices in life. Thus, in doing this they are rejecting the humility of needing help and guidance, and trying to shake off any rules that they do not agree with. When we become adults, we all seem--in some way--to become too big for our britches. We do need to make decisions on our own as adults, but that does not mean that we need to make decisions without the help and guidance of others. Trusting ourselves as though we are completely self sufficient is the standard error of growing up. Just because you have the right to make your own decisions, does not mean that you know how to do so.

Sadly, there are many people who may read this and think that I am speaking only about others. Those who have not become "like a child" as Christ encourages us to do, are the ones who are blind to their "adult" pride. In other words, if we do not think we need help from others, we will presume we are fine without help from others (no, that is not redundant). Prideful faith does not humbly seek the assistance that can be found when we reach out in our times of need.

This is the reason why no one can make it through life unscathed. We all make wrong choices at times and mess things up around us. The problem arises when we insist on continuing to make our own choices without the help of others that we truly need. The end result of this is someone who has grown old, but not actually grown up. Many a man in his early twenties thinks that he knows everything he needs to know to get through life, but actually knows barely a fraction of what he thinks he knows. We could say that growing older hinders our ability to grow up.

We all need help at various times in our lives. Spiritually speaking, however, we need help every day, but are not always willing to seek it out. Primarily we need the help of our Almighty Savior; no one doubts that. The means by which He often grants us that help is through the strength of others around us. This is why God has set up the various structures and authorities in our lives (parents, clergy, etc.). Let us each seek to humble ourselves "like a child" and not keep trying to show off our supposed maturity, which is probably a lot less significant than we tell ourselves.