The battle of the ages appears to be taking place before our eyes.
Some say the biggest war is between this nation and that nation; between statistics of genocide, infanticide and homicide. With a scratching of the cultural surface around us, I think the battle is raging within. And with a bit more scratching I see the battle is in me.
The battle within the heart of every person is not necessarily the battle of good and evil, sinner and saint, flesh and spirit. As we press for a deeper more fulfilling “inner” life the battle lines are drawn between the child and the Pharisee. (See Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child chapter 5.)
Jesus came to the earth to testify to the truth. He brought a profound unashamed revealing of his Father’s love to the people of the earth. With his risk-taking love, Jesus caused the children to sing and the Pharisees to sneer. Jesus exposed the folly of man-made religion and the reality of Father-hearted love.
Children have an incredible way of seeing life. My own children encouraged my wife and me to adopt a dying child because at least we would have her for six months before her burial. The child within us loves and trusts without fear of being hurt. For a child it really is better to love and lose than never to have loved at all. The Pharisee within us is too sophisticated to “feel” the Father’s embrace at that level.
Children naturally embrace the Father. The Pharisee within me tries so hard to measure up, look up and shape up. He plots each move with measured statistics on the ladder of spiritual success and achievements.
The child within me knows the Father in liberty and freedom. The Pharisee within me demands others to know me and gain their approval. In fact, their disapproval only deepens my conviction of “rightness.” The child simply is.
Anthony de Mello (The way of love – quoted in Abba’s Child) explained, “The first quality that strikes one when one looks into the eyes of a child is its innocence; its lovely inability to lie or wear a mask or pretend to be anything other than what it is.”
The Pharisee within me knows about the Father. The child within me knows the Father. The child is at home, whilst the Pharisee will only one day hope to find a home.
Within me dwells a Pharisee. He tries so hard to meet the spiritual disciplines of the day. He does not smoke, does not “mix.” He does a lot of “do nots,” all in the vain hope of reaching a spiritual nirvana called Christian maturity.
The problem is that this type of groping and grappling the spiritual reality is simply not the way for the follower of Jesus. When his followers tried to climb the hill of spiritual greatness he simply “called a little child and had him stand among them.”
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-3).
The child lives in the smile of the Father’s glowing love. The child does not pull the petals off the daisy mumbling “He loves me, he loves me not.” The child within me knows I am loved as I am, not as I should be, for none of us are living as we should be!
The child lives in the pleasure of a voice from heaven saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, 2 Peter 1:17).
• Steve Dunne is Senior Pastor at Richmond Baptist Church, Nelson.