If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.
How terrible for the world that there are things that make people lose their faith! Such things will always happen—but how terrible for the one who causes them!
The disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Yesterday I discussed how Jesus first responded telling the disciples that they must be humble like a lowly child if they want get into the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus told the disciples that they must be not only become like children, they must also welcome children and treat them well.
Now, in this scripture, Jesus goes on to say that everyone has a grave responsibility to encourage the children to keep their faith in him and what he has to say. We often say that “the children are our future” and we try to teach them to believe what we believe and to value what we value. However, I question whether or not our society has the kind of positive attitude in the future that nourishes the development of faith. We expose our children to so much negativity – through television, the movies, the schools, and especially thought idle conversation. Do we make it a point to impress our children that the world is good? Do we teach them to have faith not just in God or Jesus but in the goodness of humanity? Do we teach them that the future looks bright? Do we make it a priority to protect them from those things that might make them lose their faith? Or do we try to “toughen them up” to “face the harsh realities of the real world” so they can be “successful.”
I lost my faith in a lot of things at a very young age, and then I had to fight hard to get it back later as a young adult. I think one of the first things that hurt my faith was the Cold War. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was 7 years old at the time. My dad subsequently built a fallout shelter, and I grew up with instructions about what to do if there was a nuclear attack. All of this may have given my Dad peace of mind, but for me it revealed the terrifying truth that the nations of the world had weapons that were capable of destroying all life on earth.
I remember thinking about that a lot. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept that anyone would want to possess weapons that ridiculous – weapons that not only killed human beings but destroyed the capacity of the earth to support life. What kind of victory could ever come out of nuclear war? None whatsoever, I decided. I imagined the political leaders of the world as madmen who were so fixated on power and ideology that they would kill not only little kids like me and my little Russian counterparts, but destroy the whole world as well. I didn’t feel valued. I felt expendable. I felt helpless, and I felt angry.
As I learned more about the world and it’s fixation with warfare, nuclear war seemed to be an inevitability. While I heard a lot of talk on the tv about how our leaders were “making the world safe for democracy”, I certainly didn’t feel safe. I seriously doubted that I had a future. I truly believed that I would not live to adulthood. I believed that I would be eviscerated in a nuclear holocaust, vaporized as a sat at my desk at school or slept in my bed. I truly lost faith the future.
The church didn’t help much. I don’t remember hearing any sermons or Sunday School teachings about either the Cold War or the hot wars. I don’t remember them addressing any of the things that were scaring me so much. It also didn’t help that my father didn’t like the church, and my mother often expressed her doubts about what was being taught there. Everyone said that church wasn’t as good as it was in the old days. And then attendance started to radically drop off after the “camping craze” hit. Everyone took the summer off from church because it wasn’t that important. It didn’t seem to me that it made sense to have a lot of faith in the church.
It was also when I was around 7 years old that I saw the movie “King of Kings.” I remember the shock of learning about the crucifixion. I couldn’t believe that people had killed the Son of God. The resurrection didn’t help smooth it over for me. To me it was vile. It was more proof that I’d been born into a violent, insane world that was undeserving of my faith.
The assassinations began when I was about 9 years old – President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evars, Malcolm X, etc. Then the Vietnam War took off, with uncensored images of dismembered soldiers and dead civilians all over the television every night. Domestic terrorism was common by the time I was 13 years old – SDS, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, and others. And the riots – Birmingham, New York, Chicago, Watts, Detroit, and many more. And retaliation – the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State student massacre in Ohio. I remember seeing the aftermath of a student protest at our local university. All of the windows in the downtown area were broken. There was violence everywhere. There was no safe place.
By the time I was in High School I had lost my faith in the American dream as well. I really wanted to live in a nice little house with a pleasant husband and have a calm and peaceful life. But by the time I was in high school it seemed like all anyone wanted to do was get drunk. I was in a whole school full of drunks. The institution of marriage was falling apart and everyone’s parents were getting divorced all over the place. Or having affairs. The economy was bad so having a house seemed pretty unattainable. Many people consistently lamented that the economy was going to collapse and we would all be standing in bread lines. Meanwhile there were also the various counter-culture movements – peace, hippies, communists, civil rights, back to nature, on and on. The American dream was crumbling. I lost faith in my culture and my country.
So looking back I can see that I lost faith in almost everything, not because of the words or actions of any individual person but because of the collective influence of society. I lost my faith because I grew up in a post-war, post-depression era where the very foundations of American culture were shaking and people were angry and afraid. By the time I was in High School I was angry, bitter, fearful, and pessimistic about life. Like a lot of others in my time I immersed myself in drugs, alcohol, and a lot of generally bad behavior before I realized I wasn’t going to die imminently so I turned to God and began to see life in a completely different way.
What I learned is that it’s ever so important to remember that the whole world is watching everything we say and do, even the children. Especially the children. When we are afraid, they are fearful. When we are joyful, they are happy. When we are peaceful, they feel secure. In my experience it doesn’t matter that much what you teach children with your words; what matters is how you live your life. It’s what you say when you aren’t “teaching”. The children are watching. And when we collectively fail to demonstrate our faith in the goodness of life, children lose hope.
The Whole World’s Watching….
I will always remember a sermon by the John Kilpatrick, pastor at the Brownsville Assembly of God church in Pensacola, FL. While we were there for a pastor’s conference he gave a great message about the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant (from 1 Samuel 6:1-16). The Philistines had stolen the Ark (where the presence of God resided) from the Hebrews and they were subsequently plagued with a terrible infestation of mice. Then the people started suffering from tumors.
The Philistines weren’t sure if the plagues were coming from the Ark so they decided to test it. They took two cows, separated them from their calves, and hitched them to a wagon. Then they put the Ark in the wagon, and put the calves back in a barn. They led the cows out to the road and let them decide where to go. The Philistines said that if the cows went back to their calves in the barn (which would be the natural thing to do) then the plagues were a coincidence. But if the cows chose to abandon their little calves and go back to the Hebrews, then the Ark truly had power over the cows and most certainly was the source of the plagues. Sure enough, when turned loose the cows headed straight to the Hebrews, mooing as they went. The Philistines then believed in the God of the Hebrews and gave the Ark back to the Hebrews, along with many sacrificial offerings to atone for the theft.
The Philistines were watching to see if God was the real thing, to see if there was any power in the Ark. Sometimes I think we forget that everyone is watching each of us, to see if we are the real thing, to see if there is any of God’s power working in us. They want to see if we demonstrate the love, the kindness that Jesus is always talking about. They want to know if we really believe in the power of prayer, the possibility of healing, the reality of miracles. They want to know if we believe in the goodness of God’s creation and if we have confidence that God’s plan for the world is continually unfolding. They are watching to see if we speak and live in a way that demonstrates that we have faith in God and the people he has created.
I don’t’ think people understand how easy it is to inadvertently cause children to lose their faith with careless words or actions. We need to stop all the negativity. Children need to believe that they are going to be able to grow up and live happy lives. They need to believe that God loves them and cares for all people. They need to know that they don’t have to fight to survive. They need to know that the good old days weren’t that great and that the best is yet to come. They need to see that it’s better to live a life of love than a life of fear. They need to believe that life is good. Anything to the contrary can pierce their hearts and deflate their precious little spirits and shrivel their faith.
Even when we concede that things could be better, we must always maintain a positive attitude and identify these things as challenges rather than failures. We need to set a good example for children everywhere by working diligently to make things better instead of complaining about how bad they are. We need to be the change we want to see. If we determine to engage the world with a courageous, joyful spirit, the children will be encouraged in their faith. And Jesus says we can avoid the fate of being tossed into the deep sea in cement overcoats, like it says in this scripture. Sounds like a good deal all the way around. Win-win.
What does this scripture say to you?