What Is Adult Faith?
When it comes to faith, many of us are still sitting in Sunday School coloring pictures of animals entering the ark two-by-two. So what does an adult, mature faith look like?
To be honest, I'm not completely sure. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things." But then Mark 10:15 says, "Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." These two verses seem to give us mixed messages. On one hand, we're told we need to grow up, and on the other hand, we're instructed to become like children again. So which is it? And what does it mean to grow up or become childlike? Does a grown-up Christian still believe in things like the resurrection, or is that a childish thing to believe in? Does a childlike Christian understand and trust God better than an adult does, or do you have to be an adult to really know and experience God?
My best guess is that we need to be BOTH childlike AND grown-up in our faith as adults. We need to be childlike in the sense that we must relearn how to depend on God, just as children depend on their parents for everything. And we need to grow up in the sense that we must move past a Sunday School understanding (incomplete) of faith and God. I don't believe that an adult faith has anything to do with "putting away" the emotional (feeling) aspect of a relationship with God, but I do agree with those I mentioned earlier in the blog, that it is often times more difficult to FEEL God as an adult (although it is also surprisingly difficult for many adults to THINK about God in any other way than as children).
Stepping forward while falling back. This is what a childlike-grown-up faith looks like. The adult is continually stepping forward in their understanding of God while at the same time continually falling back into the sure arms of God, depending on Him to catch us. This, of course, is easier said than done. In some ways I am too childlike: my evidence for God usually rests on the fact that I feel God (or do sometimes), and I prefer to think in black-and-white ways that make it easier to understand or explain an incomprehensible God. And in some ways I am too grown-up: I've been guilty of trying to suit my Christian beliefs to the way the world thinks so they'll see me as "one of them", and I do everything I can to set up my life so that I never have to rely on God.
Despite these difficulties, I do believe each of us is called to a mature faith: one that seeks to DEPEND on God, FEEL God, and UNDERSTAND God. A mature faith leaves behind the easy answers of Sunday School, but takes with it the motivation to continually learn about and know God as an adult. A mature faith leaves behind the need for warm fuzzies from summer camp, but takes with it the desire to feel and experience God as an adult. And as for the donuts from Sunday School, well, most of us probably should leave them behind too.
How would you describe an adult faith? In what ways are you childlike? In what ways are you grown-up?
Jay Cooper is the pastor of Jacob's Well, a new United Methodist Church plant in Chandler, AZ. He blogs at Souls Gone Wild.