Jesus told us we could only enter God’s Kingdom by becoming like little children and we think immediately of some appealing traits of children:
- How innocent children are
- How easily they trust
- How confidently they follow any who leads them
A new study reported in Science suggests another trait of very young infants that might also be a characteristic of those who live in God’s Kingdom: openness to new experiences. The Johns Hopkins researchers found that 11-month-old infants, confronted with objects that behaved in unpredictable ways, were more — not less — likely to spend time with that object, investigating its properties and behaviors. What would this kind of curiosity look like in the Kingdom of God?
In the particular study, reported on April 3, 2015, infants were shown balls that seemed to disappear behind walls or float in the air. Given the choice of playing with the balls that behaved in unusual ways or other objects, the infants chose the unusual ones. They then “tested” the unusual balls to find out how they might be like or unlike other objects they had previously experienced: repeatedly banging a ball that had seemed to pass through a wall to confirm its solidity or dropping a ball that had “levitated.”
Imagine what might happen in our congregations and their outreach if, upon meeting a “different” person, we were as curious as an 11-month-old child:
- When one person speaks with an unusual accent, another would ask where they came from and what it’s like living there and do they miss family who are still in that place?
- When one person rides in a wheelchair, another would ask if they have clear passage and if not, what needs to be done, and whether there are places they want to go that the wheelchair doesn’t take them, and what they would like done about that?
- When one person is much older, another would ask about colors and styles and music and friends and clubs and activities.
- When one person is much younger, another would ask about colors and styles and music and friends and clubs and activities.
- When one person describes life experiences of abuse, prejudice, or discrimination, another person would listen and assume the descriptions are true instead of assuming that a life story different from his or her own is somehow invalid.’
- When one person seems gloomy or angry or hyper or shy, another person would talk to them anyway, instead of looking for someone easier.
When we allow ourselves to live our childhood curiosity in the face of all the many differences that our huge world creates, it is easy to enjoy people whose life and experience is not the same as our own. Instead of congregations full of people who are mostly alike, we’d have congregations of people who look, sound, and live in many different ways — and are always seeking to understand more about the different lives they each lead. We’d have churches that look more like heaven. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to experience on earth?