an exercise in child theology and biblical interpretationApril 23, 2014
The Bible contains many examples of a child performing the acts or words of God in the face of faithless adults, who, by dent of their status – prophet, King, military leader, teacher – should have known better (Samuel towards Eli, David defeater or Goliath and shamer of Saul, Daniel usurping Babylonian pedagogy, the boy with 2 fish and 5 loaves over the disciples callous irresponsibility…).
These can be read along the lines of ‘God’s power made more evident because of the weakness/impotence of the child’, Narratively the figure of the child arrests our expectations, heightens the drama, and theologically, makes clear that the source of wisdom or power is God, not human.
There is theological truth in such a hermeneutic, for sure, but it comes at the cost of obscuring the child. And there are dangers in the rhetoric by which this is often described ‘God uses a child’. Uses: what an awful word. And in the same sentence as ‘child’ we should rightly be disturbed. A church that has grown accustomed to this language is dangerously susceptible to objectifying, using and abusing children, as our media scandals and Royal Commissions rightly document.
Without moving to the opposite extreme and placing the child on a pedestal (equally as objectifying, unjust and exploitative), are there other ways of reading these texts that see both the child and God, and which might a) illumine for us the vocation of children in our midst; b) qualify our understanding of who any human is in relation to God (regardless of age) c) Interrupt our expectations of God?
Textual Task: Take a text and share your observations, and the questions you asked (methodology and outcome)
Discipline of Prayer: How shall we repent of the objectification of children in biblical hermeneutics? in ecclesial discourse? in everyday conversation? christian culture?