Children fear heaven, because of the dismal notions the unchildlike give them of it. I do not see that one should care to present an agreeable picture of it; for, suppose I could persuade a man that heaven was the perfection of all he could desire, what would the man or the truth gain by it? If he knows the Lord, he will not trouble himself about heaven; if he does not know him, he will not be drawn to him by it. But would that none presumed to teach the little ones what they know nothing of themselves! What have not children suffered from strong endeavor to desire the things they could not love! Well do I remember the trouble at not being pleased with the prospect of being made a pillar in the house of God, and going no more out! Those words were not spoken to the little ones. Yet are they, literally taken, a blessed promise compared with the notion of a continuous church-going! What boy, however fain to be a disciple of Christ and a child of God, would prefer a sermon to his glorious kite, with God himself for his playmate! He might be ready to part with kite and wind and sun, and go down to the grave for his brothers—but surely not that they might be admitted to an everlasting prayer-meeting! I rejoice that there will be no churches in the high countries, nothing there called religion; for how should there be religion where every throb of the heart says God! What room will there be for law, when everything upon which law could lay a shalt not will be too loathsome to think of? What room for honesty, where love fills full the law to overflowing—where a man would rather drop into the abyss, than wrong his neighbor one hair’s-breadth?
by Dave Roney
“The Father...Who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God's holy ones in the Light.”
—Colossians 1:12 (“The Kingdom New Testament,” ed. N.T. Wright)
“Children fear Heaven, because of the dismal notions the unchildlike give them of it.”
What is our estimation of Heaven? Ultimately, with many personally conceived variations as to its nature, do we not first think of Heaven as a place? But is not, then, to think of heaven as the nomad's tent, the dwelling which is set down only to be pulled up again, to be moved as and when the Bedouin desires? Heaven is a dwelling which moves when its Mover moves; for Heaven is not firstly a place but a Person; wherever God is, that is Heaven; “Behold,” says the Psalmist, “If I make my bed in the subterranean world of the dead, You are there; if I ascend up to the heavens, You are there” (Psm. 139:8). The following divides into two parts, the first regarding Heaven, the second the children.
Man's first focus and interest is not in any place, be it Sheol, or Heaven, or the sea's expanse, neither desert nor mountain, hill nor vale, not any place beyond the far flung stars regardless of its wonders, but in the Maker of it, the God of places, Him by Whom they consist; they are His handiwork, made by Him for Him and for His children. Whatever Heaven is, we do not know, imagine more than we know, but whatever Heaven is, even if it were only rarefied and shapeless ether, lacking substance, still in all it would be Heaven if God were there, undiminished for those children who love their Father most.
If a man's condition in the world is dire he may desire the place he calls Heaven; he does it as an escape, for relief from his miseries. But if that man's condition improves, he will think less of Heaven for it no longer holds the same attraction; it is a place to which he eventually desires to go, of course, when his earthly life is over, the prospect of a sweet by-and-bye where his earthly understanding of what are pleasantries shall be intensified. Is such a man's first thought of God?
He may, upon conscious thought, say so—but in his innermost self, if he is honest with himself, he will admit his interest is for the place. The Person Who is the Place is secondary to him, nearly incidental; think of what it means when any person, yourself included, says “I want to go to Heaven when I die.” It is to say, put another way, “I want to eventually go from this place where I am to a much better place.” Today what passes as the “gospel” is often, if condensed, a message which says “You are a sinner bound for Hell, Jesus died for you, ask Him into your heart and, if you do, when you die you will go to Heaven instead of Hell.” What need we of Heaven if it is only a place, only some great improvement in our surrounding? Is Heaven but one more thing to consume on our lust?
“I do not see that one should care to present an agreeable picture of it; for, suppose I could persuade a man that Heaven was the perfection of all he could desire, what would the man or the truth gain by it? If he knows the Lord, he will not trouble himself about Heaven; if he does not know Him, he will not be drawn to it by Him.”
Now let us think of the little children. Begin with the home; have we made it a place where the little children long to be when they are away, of which their little hearts exude the thought “I want to go to my home, where my dear papa is, and where my sweet mother is, and where my beloved brother and sister are!?” The home is the child's first perception of Heaven. And what of papa? He is the child's first impression of Who and What God is; what of mother, who is the first impression of the Holy Spirit? And from them the child learns to be either childlike, which is to be Christlike, or childish, which is to be Self-ish with all its ugly ramifications. It is in the home that the children learn first what God and Heaven must be like. It is where, when the parents set the example of Christlikeness, by themselves being childlike, that their children learn the first lesson in being:
“...fit to share the inheritance of God's holy ones in the Light.”
The failure common to so many believers is this; they present to the children a false image of God by their very lives, and the children grow to think God an ogre, one to be feared, to be placated lest there come descending wrath; it is what their unchildlike parents show them. They see, in their parents, the hypocrite—spiritual in the public setting, in the church, with others outside their immediate family, but who are entirely different in the privacy of the home setting. Later these children will think more with the adult mind growing in them, and begin to see the religiosity of their parents as hollow, false, come to regard the religion as a highly polished marble sepulcher, gleaming from without but filled with the stench of death. And from such many the child who turns away from God, and of those who turn away, many of them there are who never in this life return to the false-god they've learned:
“Children fear Heaven, because of the dismal notions the unchildlike give them of it.”
How many the child who would rather be anywhere but home, in time coming to eschew home and preferring friends above family and other places to their own natural abode; it is the “generation gap,” which is parent-to-child disparity; and divorce, spiritual in nature, is the seed out of which grows the essential separation, that being the earthly model of the child-Abba disjointment. The drunken father, abusive in every way, will not cause as much harm to his child as the harsh, doctrinal enforcing, father who claims to represent God in his life and makes demands on his child which the Heavenly Father would never make nor, for that matter, any good man. For, in the first case, that of the evil parent doing evil, the child knows his father wrong and may by that ill example turn his life differently, while in the latter case, of the religious father, he thinks him right and holds himself a failure for not living up to the demands set upon him. Such a child, often churched from birth, will come to fear Heaven because he fears the God of Heaven, whom he cannot but think is much akin to what he finds in his earthly father.
There is a bondage of the body wherein the slave yearns to be free, and there is another bondage of the heart and mind which, once accepted, becomes a ball and chain which the slave will not free himself from even though the key be placed in his hand—he will not because he has learned his slavery to be just and righteous—the fact that he cannot meet its demands shows him fault only in himself, not in the rancid theology. The unchildlike example adults set for the children tends to enslave the child, and they will either submit to it or, in some cases, rebel against it. Allow here two personal examples, those of my wife and myself, for in differing ways we sought to cast off our chains of religious bondage:
My wife was raised as a Roman Catholic, and while she was still very young, came to have no desire for either Heaven of Hell, God or Satan, but, instead, in childlike innocence, decided she would rather have nothing to do with either, that she would be better off if both would simply leave her alone. And she came from a home which was broken, in a few years to be utterly broken by divorce; there was nothing in her home life which portrayed a true image of Who and What God is. Here was produced a child who wanted nothing to do with Heaven “because of the dismal notions the unchildlike give them of it.” From the stern image of God presented by His emissaries, the priests and nuns, to the very heart of child life, her home, came the false representation of the Father of Lights and Love; and from such a god-image, so unlike true God, and His heavenly dwelling, which to her must be a home very much like her earthly home, the child refused and inwardly fled.
And I, on the other hand, was raised in the Baptist church, sat under Calvinist instruction, saw in my father the image of God as angry, punishing, unrelenting and unreasonable; came to fear God as much as did I as a small child feared my father, felt that since I could never please my father nor meet his expectations, neither could I ever please the god who was much like him, came to spend as much time away from home as I could rather than look forward to being there. And by the time I was a young man I turned to atheism, for God can only be good, and the god I had been taught was an ogre, much like my father. Did I desire Heaven, the place where the imperious reigned, the god who, unlike my father, had omnipotent power, this god who, like my father, was always angry, filled with wrath and fury, judging and condemning and tormenting, impossible to please? I loathed the thought of God and His Heaven “because of the dismal notions the unchildlike [gave me] of it.”
I have mentioned my wife's and my own childhood experiences; MacDonald now mentions his:
“But would that none presumed to teach the little ones what they know nothing of themselves! What have not children suffered from strong endeavor to desire the things they could not love! Well do I remember the trouble at not being pleased with the prospect of being made a pillar in the house of God, and going no more out!”
There is so much not said here of the “strong endeavor to desire things” he was taught he should desire but couldn't, those things he “could not love,” and his “trouble at not being pleased with the prospect” which, in the corpus of his writings he clearly identifies, focusing on the unchildlike thinking and behavior of adults, and also their false theology, particularly in his case that of the Reformed. He says, in another place, “It is God we want, not Heaven; His righteousness, not an imputed one, for our own possession” (from the pages of “Donal Grant”). How could we love Heaven until our will is one with His, until we are in very truth and fact become like Him—and how hard it is to know Him when He is falsely taught? We cannot desire Heaven more than God, and cannot desire Him lest we know Him through Christ—I speak not here of Christ as Savior, that verily a fact—I speak here of Christ as being the one true and only highest revealer of what His Father and ours is like. For those who have learned well, it is God the Person, not Heaven the place; for Heaven is Him to us. I could not love Heaven when I considered it a place, a distant place where Christ lives, the One Who protects me from a God of destructive Wrath instead of a Savior-Brother Who is ever leading me to my Father of Love, Who IS Bliss, and all the surrounding bliss of His abode, His Heaven, this Heaven being as the ray of light beaming from and surrounding The Light Who is God, and Who lights Heaven: “The Father...Who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God's holy ones in the Light.” Let us never hinder the little children by putting a bushel over the Light and obscuring it, diminishing or distorting it. And though I shall not speak of it here, the new follower of Christ is also a babe in Him, a small child; let us beware teaching him of a god unlike our true Abba. And we know our Father best only through His Son:
“A man who has not the mind of Christ—and no man has the mind of Christ except him who makes it his business to obey Him—cannot have correct opinions concerning Him; neither, if he could, would they be of any value to him: He would be nothing the better, he would be the worse for having them.” (from the Unspoken Sermon titled “Justice”)
Along with several others, our year of writing commentaries for the daily readings in “Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Love of God,” edited by Jess Lederman, my share is now come to its end. It has been my privilege to share with you my meager thoughts during this year. My prayer is that God has in some way used the inadequate effort to produce blessings in your life. Our great Abba is working in each of us, and will not be satisfied until He finishes the good thing He has begun. With love to you,