Rethinking Adult Faith
As I have been reading, studying and pondering spiritual discernment and the will of God, I have come to realize that discernment is primarily presented as a methodology that purposes the identifying and weighing of pros and cons aided by wisdom and common sense acquired as one has walked with Jesus, plus a handful of guiding principles (biblical and otherwise) and wise counsel. Once the above are dutifully employed and a decision has been reached, one is encouraged to seek confirmation from God. This method of discerning presupposes a level of spiritual maturity that some writers refer to as “adult faith.”
The delineation of a category of faith entitled “adult faith” makes sense, for the writers of the New Testament expect that those walking with Jesus will grow in their faith, moving from a new/young faith, those who need the milk of God’s word, to a more developed and nuanced faith, those who are able to partake of the meat of the word and are perplexed when that does not happen.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Heb 5:12)
In particular this concept of adult faith seems to seamlessly flow from the following words of Paul.
Paul testifying regarding his own spiritual growth and development wrote the “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became an adult, I did away with childish things. (emphasis added)
The above passage points to the existence of a level of faith that could rightly be labeled adult faith. But the problem comes when we seek to determine what is meant by adult faith? In the above passage Paul indicates that adult faith communicates, thinks and reasons differently than child faith.
Friesen, in “Decision Making and the Will of God”, describes this level of faith as follows; “New Testament believers are equipped to relate to their father (God) on an adult level without requiring the kind of detailed parental supervision that was appropriate to childhood…This is demonstrated at the level of human relationships. In my own case, as I was growing up, my parents were training me so I could learn to make decisions for myself. They taught me to distinguish right from wrong; they taught me biblical values and principles that I could apply to specific decisions. The older I got the less they told me what to do... In a similar manner, our heavenly father personally cares for his children.” (“Decision Making and the Will of God” p. 246)
So adult faith as presented here involves moving from the dependency a child would have on their parent for wisdom, instruction, insight to a level of independence and personal responsibility that we have come to think characterizes the life of an adult. The idea being that as we grow in our faith we become better able to make use of common sense, weigh options, and draw upon the wisdom we have accumulated as we have walked with Jesus, read the word, prayed, been discipled…in short lived a vibrant and growing Christian life. This faith infused life frees us from childish dependency on God so we can walk with God in a more adult way.
At first blush this makes a lot of sense and is quite appealing. But I believe this understanding of adult faith takes us back to the garden of Eden-- not the innocence of the garden, but the disobedience of the garden, where once again we choose to eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, so we can decide what is good and what is evil apart from the input and wisdom of God. This kind of “adult faith” is a veiled means of reasserting ourselves, choosing to ignore our limitations, our finiteness, our imprisonment within the time and space continuum. It fosters, even celebrates, a level of independence that encourages the individual to choose, decide, discern and then invite God to join them, not in a partnering way but in terms of approving, signing off on their plans so they can continue on unhindered, free to live the life of their own choosing. This description of adult faith smacks of a type of hubris that is built on the belief that we are able to get to a point of knowing/wisdom that approaches a level of equality with God.
Now if anyone was able arrive at the level of independence that the adult faith mentioned above denotes, it would be Jesus, for Jesus was fully God and fully human. Jesus lived among us to show us the Father and to show us what it means to be fully human, so it makes prefect sense to look at how Jesus lived, NOT asking the question what would Jesus do, an impossible question to answer with any level of certainty, but instead asking what did Jesus do, what did Jesus say. In decision making and discernment Jesus never even hints at any level of independence, there is no weighing pros and cons but rather a relentless emphasis of dependence on God and the need to hear and follow God’s leading. At the end of his life, as he is in the garden of Gethsemane, there is no weighing the pros and cons but rather a declaration that I do not want to do this (die on a cross) followed by the resolve to do the will of God that has been made known to him. If anyone would have the independent adult faith mentioned above, a faith that was mature enough to make decisions on his or her own, it would be Jesus. But this is not the case. Here is what Jesus says:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” John 5:19
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38
So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” John 7:16
So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” John 8:28
I do believe that Jesus possessed a mature faith, an adult faith, but it was not a faith characterized by independence, a faith akin to the developing relationship of a parent and child. No, this adult faith of Jesus was an eyes- wide- open faith, a faith that knows the world is broken, is a place of tribulation, suffering and pain, and to follow God in such a world leads, more often than not, to suffering, sacrifice, to a cross and yet one is still able/willing to say yes, God’s will be done in the midst of anguish and pain. This adult faith is not dependent on feeling God’s presence but is a faith that could experience the assurance of God’s presence, caring, love and wisdom in the midst of the perceived absence of God (my God, my God why have you forsaken me).
This kind of adult faith owns its need for the wisdom that comes from above, a wisdom not of this world, a wisdom that is seen as foolishness by the people of this world (non-Christian and Christian) but is a needed and necessary wisdom for those who desire to live their lives in harmony with the person and character of God. This adult faith is a by-product of relationship, time spent with the Triune God, owning, embracing, trusting in and relying on the truth of God’s character as loving, wise and powerful, able to give God the benefit of the doubt when circumstances may tell another story, for this faith knows and owns the finiteness of its human wisdom, perspective and insight. This kind of adult faith necessitates a daily walking with Jesus, an embracing of the words of Jesus, “apart from me you can do nothing, in the world you will have tribulation, you will be hated, others, even your brothers, will turn against you, blessed are you when you are persecuted, cursed…”— it is an eyes-wide-open faith able to see the eternal, the unseen, the presence of God, in whom we live, move and have our being come what may.
The description of adult faith marked by independence and the sufficiency of accumulated wisdom and common sense is attractive, but it leads to a separation from God, a doing of life on one’s own terms and looking for God’s stamp of approval on our plans. The adult faith just described leads to a greater dependency on God, a being with God, an invitation to walk with God, to live life together, open, yielded, attentive and aware. It is a faith that includes – seeing the world as it is and ourselves as we are – finite, broken, in need of the wisdom that only God can bring. This eyes-wide-open adult faith resonates with the words of Paul when he speaks of the otherness of God’s wisdom and ways:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom 11:33)
As well as the words of the writer of Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.” (The Message)
Which kind of adult faith are you drawn to? Why? Which kind of adult faith do you see displayed by Jesus? What would it take for you to more fully live into the eyes-wide-open adult faith that owns the way the world is and your own limitations? What might you need to put into/take out of your life in order to develop the depth of relationship with God that is needed to live a life that is open to God, dependent on God and is able to say, not my will but your will be done? What is God inviting you to say yes to and/or no to in order to partner with the Spirit in developing this kind of adult faith?
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