Bridging the Greatest “Generation Gap”
Posted by May 14, 2013on
A small child’s understanding of the world can be cute, funny—or even a bit frightening for the parents! Is our understanding of the spiritual world similar?
The apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
There is a vast chasm of knowledge between a newborn child and his or her parents. There is an even greater knowledge gap between us and God—who has no beginning or end. Could we ever become like Him when we grow up spiritually?
How does a child think?
I still have a scar on my left little finger from where a rabbit bit me. It wasn’t the rabbit’s fault. I was about 18 months old and vacationing with my parents in New York’s beautiful Catskill Mountains when the incident occurred.
I was playing on the green, sun-drenched lawn outside the lodge, and as soon as I spied the sweet white rabbit sunning itself in a cage not too far away, I toddled over to investigate. I was thinking in images, not words. I wanted to feed the rabbit.
Apparently I knew what rabbits ate, and the closest thing I had to the right shape was my finger. It never occurred to me that my finger was the wrong color or that it was attached to my body.
Unfortunately for me and the rabbit, my experiment worked a bit too well; and the next thing I knew I was being hustled away in great anxiety by adults racing to get first aid for my bleeding finger!
In need of knowledge
A second example I remember was flushing a towel down a toilet when I was 2.
What was I thinking? I’d been wondering where the water went when it flushed! Was it the same water that came out the bathtub faucet?
There was only one way to find out, and that was to flush something large enough down the drain so that I could see where it ended up.
Of course, the next scene was not what I had anticipated, but rather adults scurrying about in a frenzy to clean up a flood! It was a long time before I understood anything about plumbing or had enough vocabulary to ask questions before experimenting.
In need of practical experience
Fast-forward to a time many decades later. I was on a morning stroll with my own 2-year-old daughter, following a mountain meadow trail in front of our cabin, when my very bright and curious little child stopped to stare at the entrance to a tiny burrow in the side of the hill. She announced firmly: “Rhinoceros in it!”
I argued to no avail.
“Rhi-no-ce-ros in it!” she insisted.
I thought about that all day, and the illumination came that evening when the tub toys were dumped into the evening’s sudsy water. Aha! Among the toys was a 4-inch-long plastic rhino!
That’s when it hit me that my daughter had never seen a real rhino, so her thinking had in fact been understandable.
An overdue trip to the Denver zoo realigned her perceptions a week or so later. To this day the look on her face, as she leaned forward in her stroller to gasp at the massive creature, is still glued in my memory!
Learning as a child learns
Just as a child learns the material realm slowly, by experience, so the pattern repeats itself when we learn about the spiritual realm.
God tells us: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
As spiritual children, we are as far from fully understanding all that God has in mind for us as I was from knowing that my finger was not a carrot. Or that towels did not travel well through plumbing or that real rhinos do not come in 4-inch sizes.
Growing in grace and in knowledge
Learning the Word of God takes time, study, meditation, prayer and practice. We have God’s perfect law to guide us as we learn to walk with Him. “A good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalm 111:10, emphasis added).
It is not enough to just hear or watch a reduced version of the Christian life, as if playing with a toy or watching television; we have to live the real thing.
That is how we grow. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
No more generation gap!
Nancy Diraison is an East Texas member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. Writing everything from music to blogs is her favorite occupation!