Adulthood: greatest threat to faith, hope and love?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 14, 2008

Several coffee companions have wondered what I meant in last week’s Mother’s Day column when I said:

“Adulthood, with its cares and fears, may well be the greatest threat to this beautiful singularity [of faith, hope and love evidenced in the innocence of the newborn child].”

Permit me to respond explicitly, once more, as a Christian who loves to tell the story of Jesus found in the New Testament.

To review for a moment, last week I wrote at some length on the words: “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,” a quotation from 1 Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter” of the Bible. In that context, I said, faith is a longing toward and trust in God; hope is the confident expectation that flows from such a faith, as well as the object of such faith and trust; love is the unifying bond of affection that invites – and increases within – the embrace of faith and hope. It is my conviction, I said, that the newborn, fresh on its mother’s bosom, is an awe-inspiring example of faith, hope and love that points to the relationship with God that is our birthright.

In fact, for this week’s column, I would go so far as to assert that, in the newborn’s innocence, such faith, hope and love are innate; they are already present in the newborn as gifts from God. The newborn’s faith-hope-love longing toward God is as real as its instinctive longing for its mother’s face, arms and breasts.

So, why do I think adulthood is the greatest threat to this innate longing toward God?

Jesus told a parable (an illustrative story) about a man who went about sowing seeds. Although some of the seeds fell on good ground and thrived, other seeds fell on the path, and still others on rocky, unproductive ground. Then there were the seeds that wound up among thorns, which choked them out (the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13.)

He was teaching, of course, about what happens to his encouraging message of God’s presence among us as it falls on different kinds of ears. The good ground is the ideal audience, those who resonate with his message and bear fruit, just as such seed is supposed to do when received by good ground.

Of special interest to me in the light of the innateness of faith-hope-love, however, is what happens to his message when it falls on “thorny ground.” Jesus put it this way:

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”

The ground has been taken over by weeds. The innocent newborn, alive with faith, hope and love, has become a no-longer innocent adult. The innateness of holy longing has been choked out by cares and fears: What must I do to succeed? What compromises must I make? What can I do to get even with someone? How is my investment portfolio doing? Will my savings run out before my life runs out?

Or to use Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (especially Matthew 6): “‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’”

Like weeds, these are what choke out our holy longing, replacing it with a longing for that which can never fully satisfy. That is why adulthood can be such a threat to the life of faith, hope and love. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus tells his listeners to get their priorities straight. Stop obsessing over food, clothing, bank accounts – the price of a tank of gas! – and seek what really matters. And for Jesus, what really matters is the moment-by-moment experience of the presence of God, of God with us – what, in part, he means by the signature phrase of his teaching, “the kingdom of God.”

Newborns have this experience; adults are in constant danger of losing it.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus tells the adults in his audience to return to the innocence of their childhood if they want to really experience God in their lives.

There is a contemporary language version of the Bible, The Message, that often excels in making clear some difficult passages. Such is the case with the Gospel of Mark 10:13–16:

“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.’ Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.”

Faith, hope and love affirmed! Innocence redeemed!

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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