The concept of a childlike faith is difficult for us. At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve been running from childishness. I have spent a lot of time and money refining my thinking, challenging my naïve assumptions, and generally maturing the way I view everything. We all do this to varying degrees (and with varying degrees).
But growing more intelligent and mature often comes with an unintended side effect. We gain a lot of perspective, but we also lose a lot of perspective. As we begin to “understand” the world better, it begins to lose some of its wonder for us.
In a very real sense, children see the world more clearly than we do. Two very different events this week triggered this insight for me. On the one hand, I’ve been clued in to my oldest daughter’s reactions to things on our evening walks. On the other hand, I finally finished reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I definitely didn’t expect these two things to speak to me in unison.
Most evenings my wife and I walk about three miles with both girls in our “Double Bob” stroller. Halfway through our walk we stop at the park to let the girls play. As I talk with my wife about life as we experience it, my oldest daughter (Abigail, 2.5 years old) calls out the things that catch her interest. She sees dandelions. Doggies. Pinecones. She admires the flowers along our walk and wants to say hello to everyone we pass.
The other day we had a rare Southern California thunderstorm. Abigail stood in the rain with her princess umbrella and was genuinely amazed at the thunder. Where is it? Who is making that sound? Why can’t I see it?
For a child, the world is literally wonderful. How many dandelions have I walked past without admiring their fascinating design? How often do I just head down the street on my way to wherever without noticing the world and the people around me? This world is insane, and right now my daughter is recognizing it in small ways. In small ways that are far more profound than most of the serious discussions I have as an adult.
A number of factors pushed me to be reading Dostoevsky around this same time. His brilliant writing has helped me put my daughter’s simple insights into theological perspective. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reminds us through his idealized monk, Zosima:
“Look at the divine gifts around us: the clear sky, the fresh air, the tender grass, the birds, nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, we alone, are godless and foolish, and do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty, and we shall embrace each other and weep…”
Of course, we can’t forget that the natural world is stained by sin as well. But Dostoevsky’s point is well taken: we live every day of our lives in a paradise that proclaims God’s glory. Take note.
Yet it’s not enough to notice the world around us. We must also love it as the good creation of God:
“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.”
So here’s what I learned this week. We shouldn’t get so caught up in our serious little grown-up world that we forget to acknowledge that we live in God’s grand, glorious, playful, and always surprising world. We do need to be serious. We do need to be mature. But let us not give up on the childlike vision that sees the world for what it is: a place saturated with the awe and mystery of the God who fashioned it. I have been trying to keep this in mind this week, and when I have any measure of success, it’s like a new and surprising world suddenly appears around me.
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990) 299.
 Ibid., 319.