In one of his boldest and most challenging assertions, George MacDonald takes Jesus’ words on children and declares: God is a child. The essence of childlikeness is God-likeness, and to love a child in Jesus’ name is to love God himself.
MacDonald makes several very provocative points in this regard, claims which are still obscure to me, and yet which thrill me. He claims that not every child is childlike, for some have loved the world, and the love of the Father is not in them [think of Susan in Chronicles of Narnia, who comes back from Narnia, falls in love with ‘society’ and worldly things, and loses her belief in Narnia]. These children are the ones who lose their inner beauty, their destined birthright; whereas, other children, even handicapped or physically marred, still childlike, represent the very beauty of Jesus.
Here MacDonald asserts that to love this childlike child, one of the 'least of these,' is to love Jesus, to love God himself. The implication is that we encounter God in this childlike love, not just in ethereal or illustrative form, but in actuality, touching and entering the love of God.
Here my mind went to those who love orphans and outcasts, like Hopegivers and Logos Global, those who give their self and substance in a direction of childlike love – whether that child be seen as unlovable, outcaste or deformed: in this is the love of the Father known.
All this MacDonald asserts, yet he goes higher still, claiming that we actually ‘receive of God in the child,’ and that in our own childlikeness is God revealed. The hint is of the true self, that true self declared by creation of God before the world began, this true self is the inner boy or girl, lost in wonder and love with the childlike in God – the God who has not two thoughts for us, but one, in simplicity of love, our perfection!
There are some tough, bracing assertions in this theology: one must be a true man or woman to even think about them deeply; and yet, along the way, MacDonald soars into some of the highest claims of divine beauty and sovereignty that I have ever heard. He sings the truth that “Life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between, but one providence of God…” and that God is
Grand and strong beyond all that human imagination can conceive of poet-thinking and kingly action, He is delicate beyond all that human tenderness can conceive of husband or wife, homely beyond all that human heart can conceive of father or mother. He has not two thoughts about us. With Him all is simplicity of purpose and meaning and effort and goal…
And this is the childlike God!
Can your mind conceive of these words? Those who love children, hear these words! Those who struggle with the love of Abba, hear these words! “For it is His childlikeness that makes Him our God and Father.”
The words are stirring and almost beyond comprehension, but here, for you, to encourage your heart today, are some words of God the child!
His childlikeness makes Him our God and Father
But [let us] advance now to the highest point of this teaching of our Lord: “He that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” To receive a child in the name of God is to receive God himself. How to receive him? As alone He can be received,—by knowing Him as He is. To know Him is to have Him in us. And that we may know Him, let us now receive this revelation of Him, in the words of our Lord himself. Here is the argument of highest import founded upon the teaching of our Master in the utterance before us.
God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child. Therefore God is represented in the child, for that He is like the child. God is child-like. In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.
Having reached this point, I have nothing more to do with the argument; for if the Lord meant this—that is, if this be a truth, he that is able to receive it will receive it: he that hath ears to hear it will hear it. For our Lord’s arguments are for the presentation of the truth, and the truth carries its own conviction to him who is able to receive it.
But the word of one who has seen this truth may help the dawn of a like perception in those who keep their faces turned towards the east and its aurora; for men may have eyes, and, seeing dimly, want to see more. Therefore let us brood a little over the idea itself, and see whether it will not come forth so as to commend itself to that spirit, which, one with the human spirit where it dwells, searches the deep things of God. For, although the true heart may at first be shocked at the truth, as Peter was shocked when he said, “That be far from thee, Lord,” yet will it, after a season, receive it and rejoice in it.
Let me then ask, do you believe in the Incarnation? And if you do, let me ask further, Was Jesus ever less divine than God? I answer for you, Never. He was lower, but never less divine. Was He not a child then? You answer, “Yes, but not like other children.” I ask, “Did He not look like other children?” If He looked like them and was not like them, the whole was a deception, a masquerade at best. I say He was a child, whatever more He might be. God is man, and infinitely more. Our Lord became flesh, but did not become man. He took on him the form of man: He was man already. And He was, is, and ever shall be divinely childlike. He could never have been a child if He would ever have ceased to be a child, for in Him the transient found nothing. Childhood belongs to the divine nature. Obedience, then, is as divine as Will, Service as divine as Rule. How? Because they are one in their nature; they are both a doing of the truth. The love in them is the same. The Fatherhood and the Sonship are one, save that the Fatherhood looks down lovingly, and the Sonship looks up lovingly. Love is all. And God is all in all. He is ever seeking to get down to us—to be the divine man to us. And we are ever saying, “That be far from thee, Lord!” We are careful, in our unbelief, over the divine dignity, of which He is too grand to think. Better pleasing to God, it needs little daring to say, is the audacity of Job, who, rushing into His presence, and flinging the door of his presence—chamber to the wall, like a troubled, it may be angry, but yet faithful child, calls aloud in the ear of him whose perfect Fatherhood he has yet to learn: “Am I a sea or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”
Let us dare, then, to climb the height of divine truth to which this utterance of our Lord would lead us.
Does it not lead us up hither: that the devotion of God to His creatures is perfect? that He does not think about himself but about them? that He wants nothing for himself, but finds His blessedness in the outgoing of blessedness.
Ah! it is a terrible—shall it be a lonely glory this? We will draw near with our human response, our abandonment of self in the faith of Jesus. He gives himself to us—shall not we give ourselves to him? Shall we not give ourselves to each other whom he loves?
For when is the child the ideal child in our eyes and to our hearts? Is it not when with gentle hand he takes his father by the beard, and turns that father’s face up to his brothers and sisters to kiss? when even the lovely selfishness of love-seeking has vanished, and the heart is absorbed in loving?
In this, then, is God like the child: that He is simply and altogether our friend, our father—our more than friend, father, and mother—our infinite love-perfect God. Grand and strong beyond all that human imagination can conceive of poet-thinking and kingly action, He is delicate beyond all that human tenderness can conceive of husband or wife, homely beyond all that human heart can conceive of father or mother. He has not two thoughts about us. With Him all is simplicity of purpose and meaning and effort and end—namely, that we should be as He is, think the same thoughts, mean the same things, possess the same blessedness. It is so plain that any one may see it, every one ought to see it, every one shall see it. It must be so. He is utterly true and good to us, nor shall anything withstand His will.
How terribly, then, have the theologians misrepresented God in the measures of the low and showy, not the lofty and simple humanities! Nearly all of them represent Him as a great King on a grand throne, thinking how grand He is, and making it the business of His being and the end of His universe to keep up His glory, wielding the bolts of a Jupiter against them that take His name in vain. They would not allow this, but follow out what they say, and it comes much to this. Brothers, have you found our king? There He is, kissing little children and saying they are like God. There He is at table with the head of a fisherman lying on his bosom, and somewhat heavy at heart that even He, the beloved disciple, cannot yet understand Him well. The simplest peasant who loves his children and his sheep were—no, not a truer, for the other is false, but—a true type of our God beside that monstrosity of a monarch.
The God who is ever uttering himself in the changeful profusions of nature; who takes millions of years to form a soul that shall understand Him and be blessed; who never needs to be, and never is, in haste; who welcomes the simplest thought of truth or beauty as the return for seed He has sown upon the old fallows of eternity; who rejoices in the response of a faltering moment to the age-long cry of His wisdom in the streets; the God of music, of painting, of building, the Lord of Hosts, the God of mountains and oceans; whose laws go forth from one unseen point of wisdom, and thither return without an atom of loss; the God of history working in time unto Christianity; this God is the God of little children, and He alone can be perfectly, abandonedly simple and devoted. The deepest, purest love of a woman has its well-spring in him. Our longing desires can no more exhaust the fullness of the treasures of the Godhead, than our imagination can touch their measure. Of Him not a thought, not a joy, not a hope of one of His creatures can pass unseen; and while one of them remains unsatisfied, He is not Lord over all.
Therefore, with angels and with archangels, with the spirits of the just made perfect, with the little children of the kingdom, yea, with the Lord himself, and for all them that know Him not, we praise and magnify and laud His name in itself, saying Our Father. We do not draw back for that we are unworthy, nor even for that we are hard-hearted and care not for the good. For it is His childlikeness that makes Him our God and Father. The perfection of His relation to us swallows up all our imperfections, all our defects, all our evils; for our childhood is born of His fatherhood. That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and his desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to him, “Thou art my refuge, because thou art my home.”
Such a faith will not lead to presumption. The man who can pray such a prayer will know better than another, that God is not mocked; that He is not a man that He should repent; that tears and entreaties will not work on Him to the breach of one of his laws; that for God to give a man because he asked for it that which was not in harmony with His laws of truth and right, would be to damn him—to cast him into the outer darkness. And he knows that out of that prison the childlike, imperturbable God will let no man come till he has paid the uttermost farthing.
And if he should forget this, the God to whom he belongs does not forget it, does not forget him. Life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between to keep up a justly failing belief, but one providence of God; and the man shall not live long before life itself shall remind him, it may be in agony of soul, of that which he has forgotten. When he prays for comfort, the answer may come in dismay and terror and the turning aside of the Father’s countenance; for love itself will, for love’s sake, turn the countenance away from that which is not lovely; and he will have to read, written upon the dark wall of his imprisoned conscience, the words, awful and glorious, Our God is a consuming fire.
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons Series One: The Child in the Midst.