Updated: May 6, 2022
(Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. This is a long one.)
When I first read this verse, I thought it referred to a nursing baby, sweetly serene and sated, nuzzling mama's bosom. Baby peace is deep. This picture perfectly captures those priceless times with my own boys. I think we even had the same onesie. Nursing was the ultimate pacifier. It not only fully satisfied my boys’ relentless hunger, but it was also often the remedy for anything that ailed them--from sleeplessness to bellyaches. This image of faith is comforting to me. Easy. But David’s referring to a weaned infant--one who is eating solid food. I admit I was a bit bummed by the fact because I can be a big baby sometimes and want so much to be lulled.
The comforts of infancy.
I nursed both my boys for a good while; Pierce for 12 and Isaac for 18 months. Isaac was in the NICU for a week when he was born, so they gave him formula in addition to my pumped breast milk. Pierce was my firstborn, and I was a total purist. I nursed exclusively. He would wail, panic-stricken when he was hungry, and he was always hungry. Nursing was exhausting, demanding, relentless, especially with Pierce. I remember calling the saintly nursing doula in maternal hysterics at all hours and her comforting me off the ledge of post-partum despair.
Once I got the hang of it, though, I treasured that very special time with both my boys. I'd spend hours in the glider, nursing, cuddling, then nursing again. When they were sleepless, anxious, sick, or otherwise troubled, nursing fixed it. Nursing was a blessing to both of us.
Time to grow up. At least a little.
Weaning was hard, especially for Pierce who'd only known mother's milk and the ease and comfort of my warm nook for a long time. It was hard on me, too. Though demanding, nursing was the convenient solution for a lot of problems--real and imagined. It was also mandatory downtime from my constant busy-busy multitasking.
But my babies eventually needed solid food, even while they relied on me to provide it. After that, we enjoyed cuddles without the neediness or urgency of nursing. In Psalm 131, David is speaking to this serene, yet still child-like dependence, without the desperate demands of a hangry, helpless baby. God wants that for us.
Real and pseudo-security.
Dear brothers, I have been talking to you as though you were still just babies in the Christian life who are not following the Lord but your own desires; I cannot talk to you as I would to healthy Christians who are filled with the Spirit. I have had to feed you with milk and not with solid food because you couldn’t digest anything stronger. And even now you still have to be fed on milk. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (TLB)
How I love these plain-talking Bible translations that capture both the substance and the spirit of God’s word to us! I can almost hear an exasperated Paul addressing those wacky Corinthian folks, who were a hot mess.
According to Crossway’s English Standard Version Bible commentary, the Corinthian believers were “plagued with serious problems of division, sexual immorality, and social snobbery” (p. 2187). Boy, you could have written that yesterday, eh? They also suffered from “considerable theological confusion about marriage, divorce, participation in pagan religions, order within corporate worship, and the bodily resurrection of Christ” (p. 2188).
Two thousand years of “evolution” hasn’t changed us much. We still eschew the solid food of God’s truth.
There, maybe lewdly lounging on the Corinthian beach, those wacky believers read Paul’s earful. Oh, to be a fly on that umbrella! Their conduct and confusion were both unhealthy and juvenile, as I can sometimes be. As the entire planet seems to be more and more these days.
“Grow up!” I can almost hear Paul say.
The perils of being puerile.
Paul’s drive to mature the Corinthians isn’t a minor matter. The Corinthian’s crappy conduct was not only harming them and others, it was also undermining the gospel mission and compromising the very existence of the church. There are even graver consequences for those who blow God off altogether.
No doubt, there’s real danger in buying comfortable half-truths or knowingly redefining truth to suit ourselves. Believers or otherwise.
Sometimes, our sense of spiritual and physical safety is woefully misplaced and frightfully immature. Baby faith can cause serious problems to us, to the body of Christ, and not to exaggerate even a teeny bit, the whole wide world.
Still, there’s immense comfort in this verse and the many others that invite child-like--but not totally baby-like--faith. Mature faith, as described in the subject Psalm, or many other verses throughout the Bible, still has an endearingly childlike quality.
A delicate balance.
This weaned child faith David and Paul describe involves a delicate balance between restful, trusting dependence and enough maturity to both absorb and apply God’s wisdom and power to live life in faithful obedience. Obedience without resorting to red-faced hysterics when we have an unmet need or want--like a nursing infant.
It's important to note that the psalms testify that David was in earnest, messy dialogue with God a lot, so there's evidently a cause-effect relationship between heartfelt wrestling and this peace we all want and need. True peace is often borne of struggle, unlike the artificial variety.
Human baby peace can be quite misleading. Babies are babies, and their judgment of dangers or discernment about real security is…well…infantile. Babies and small children can have a false sense of safety, deceptively lulled.
Take me, for example. Even though my beloved mom was mentally ill and often wildly unpredictable and unsafe, I still have warm memories of nestling in her ample bosom and feeling sheltered and loved. Since my childhood was often crazy-chaotic (and she was often the cause), it made no sense really. Still, it was as though there, in those moments, all was well. It was rather cruel to have that rug pulled out from under me on a regular basis and I’m honestly still nursing (pardon the pun) the scars of my mislaid trust. I had to be weaned of my false reality, my denial. OUCH.
More recently and tangibly, there was awful turbulence on my flight to Chicago for the Bitterness Runs Deep book signing last week. The captain warned we might be in it for a good hour. She sounded a bit anxious herself, which is pretty unpleasant in a pilot. I'm an intrepid traveler, but nobody likes bad turbulence! I prayed quietly and felt a persistent prompt to pray aloud. Uggh. I really didn't want to do that.
After 45 tense and bouncy minutes, the air calmed, the captain turned off the seatbelt sign, and they started beverage service. Everyone laughed with relief. We all relaxed. I thanked God--also because I really didn't want to pray aloud and seem like one of those people.
Moments into our newly gentle ride, there was a sudden sharp drop, followed by a fresh round of hard jolts. The plane creaked like she was coming apart at the seams. The pilot announced that we were entering an area of "convection." I think she intentionally used a word some folks might not understand as lightning. Yikes. Now the pilot and flight attendants sounded downright panicky, rushing everyone back to their seats to buckle-up.
The prompt to pray aloud got increasingly urgent. Another sharp drop and it truly felt like if I didn't heed it, the plane might drop from the sky. I reluctantly lifted my hands in the air and prayed. Isabella-loudly. I felt a rush of peace. The bouncing stopped and never resumed. I believe God stilled the storm as a result of my obedience to pray aloud. Until then, we'd been lulled into a false sense of safety by the brief stillness.
The increasingly severe jolts were warnings.
Likewise, in our journey of faith. We can be lulled into a misguided and mistaken notion of safety, because we’re being big babies about hard truths. Like navigating a bad storm at 30,000 feet.
In similar vein, while in Chicago, I attended a dwindling denominations' church services. It was beautifully brimming with gospel love, but woefully advancing some destructive and dangerous doctrine that just doesn't align with Bible truth. All told, f2f and online, there were only about 30 in attendance. A loving lot for sure, but without life-saving truth, the church was in sharp decline, not unlike a crashing plane.
This kind of milk-drunk madness is terribly dangerous because all sorts of errant nonsense can be committed, as in fact it is, on both a global and deeply intimate scale, more and more. We've been warned this would happen in 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, and elsewhere.
Eventually, we have to grow up and contend with reality.
Contend we must.
You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others, but instead you have dropped back to the place where you need someone to teach you all over again the very first principles in God’s Word. You are like babies who can drink only milk, not old enough for solid food. And when a person is still living on milk it shows he isn’t very far along in the Christian life, and doesn’t know much about the difference between right and wrong. He is still a baby Christian! You will never be able to eat solid spiritual food and understand the deeper things of God’s Word until you become better Christians and learn right from wrong by practicing doing right. Hebrews 5:12-15 (TLB)
I was talking to an acquaintance recently who had a supernatural encounter with Jesus as a teen. Her lasting impression was one of profound love. This is so beautiful and resonates as truth, but left me contending with everything else in scripture, which to my mortal eyes, seems less cozy than this childlike experience of Christ’s unconditional love.
I asked her about it, now that she’s a grown woman. She stumbled noticeably when she said she couldn’t understand or handle everything in the Bible, so she just didn’t think about it. She preferred to just remember the sweet, loving Jesus who comforted her when she needed it.
I hear you, sister! I love Him, too! But what about the same Jesus who exhorts us not only to believe, but to holiness and obedience in plain language? How do we reconcile the two?
“Is it finished” or not? And does "it is finished," preclude a need to heed his commands and face difficult consequences when we don't? Inquiring minds want to know!
Can we really stop at the Jesus who is a big teddy bear? It’s certainly more comfortable, but is it consistent with God’s word to us? We have to grapple with all the other stuff in the Bible--including the love-laden New Testament--that is decidedly less fun-filled and fuzzy.
I much prefer the idea of a Jesus who died and the cross for all my sins past, present, and future, issuing a kind of carte blanche for self-indulgent sin, get out of jail for free card, to the one who really knows my heart and is the only right judge of my motives.
I much prefer the Jesus who assures me that as a true believer, I have nothing to fear, to the Jesus who says, He will not be mocked, and if I try to bamboozle Him, there will be consequences, maybe quite severe.
It’s absolutely, positively true that nothing will separate us from His ever-abounding indescribable love, that we are not condemned in Christ, and that we are saved by grace, it's never a license to sin. It is also true that God lovingly allows consequences that produce holiness, righteousness, or in more Tony Robbins-friendly parlance, makes us the best version of ourselves. I don’t know how this plays out in heaven, though the Bible speaks of rewards. Moreover, the testimony of martyrs is obedience doesn't guarantee an easy life down here.
I always say, consequences, not “punishment.” I repeat it because it bears repeating. Consequences are the reality of a divinely ordered universe I described in my recent blog, Grace & the Law of Gravity (isabellacampolattaro.com). Consequences are a perfectly loving change agent that will “finish the work of sanctification He started” in us (Phil.1:6) and who will not allow us to harm ourselves or others with impunity.
My women’s group is studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians, which is about the last days, and there's some super scary language about judgement, and vengeance, and destruction. And while we Christians are spared the fiery pit, there’s still plenty said about parental discipline this side of heaven for those who ignore God’s commands without remorse. I’d much rather hang out with the Jesus who knows my wickedness and compassionately forgives me even when I don't acknowledge I'm wrong. I much prefer that image, too. Much, much!
This WAY more sober (and accurate) image of Jesus is definitely sobering. How do we get to be the weaned baby David describes, nestled in mama’s arms, safe from all the swirling threats?
I mean, given the impossible high standard by that Jesus set in which lust equals adultery and hate equals murder, what am I gonna do?
The answer is repentance, “the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse.”
We have to contend with this.
The posture of repentance.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
True, humble confession is not a “Gee, I’ve been caught and better fess up,” though repentance may spring from real-life consequences. Nor is it like the husband who cheats on or abuses his wife and compensates by buying her a big rock.
Nor is it the confession of wrong that somehow makes it the other person’s—or God’s—fault. No.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17
True repentance is our genuine sorrow at our sin and the harm it’s caused, and a heartfelt desire to change. In my case, I have a few defects that I cannot seem to shake, so I have to return to this posture over and over. The apostle Paul did, too (Romans 7:15-20). Repentance is an attitude of the heart that signifies our love.
If you cannot muster sincere repentance but you sincerely want to want to, I believe that counts for something. But I believe we'll still suffer until we get to that place of utter surrender. Genuine repentance is not about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit power-tripping. This is solely a perfectly loving Creator of the Universe wanting to spare us destructive effects of sin, wants you to be the best you can be, to nurture healthy community, and to help you be in perfect, unsullied union with Him.
While it may seem preposterous to 21st century Christians, this same posture of sincere repentance is also vitally important for churches and the human community as a whole, too. We cannot knowingly ignore God and expect to skate. We can’t. Rather, we can, but it’s…well…childish.
I return (over and over) to two metaphorical images help me grasp this. One is any personal relationship. If I knowingly and remorselessly continue to do something that harms someone, and I never ever acknowledge it, apologize, or make an effort to change, that profoundly damages or destroys the relationship. The only way to restore it is to fully own the wrong we’ve done with rigorous honesty and make a sincere effort to change. Anything short of that will have negative residual effects. While I'm beholden to forgive regardless, forgiveness may not involve restoration of healthy and loving relationship.
The other notion is me as a parent. I adore my kids and want them to fulfill their potential and have joy-filled, gratifying, impactful, and healthy lives. I’d be one lousy mama if I let them do whatever they wanted or to be destructive without consequences. My correction, lectures, consequences, discipline, encouragement—sometimes in a loud or shrill voice, I admit—is borne of my super-abounding, though admittedly flawed, love for my kids. My desire is for the very best for them.
So going back to the more comforting image of the weaned baby, “calmed and quiet…”
Right relationship with God, both before and after recognizing Christ for who He is involves continual, humble recognition of His sovereignty, aiming to continually grow in holiness (I know this is a heavy word—it’s His word, not mine!), and seeking forgiveness when we fall short (which is certainly daily or many times a day).
I prefer the Jesus who pats the heads of curious kids, who holds the sheep gently in His arms to the Lion on Judah, with eyes of fire, and a double-edged sword. Since I’m not God, I have to contend with both.
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Children are mindful of their parents’ authority. They’re not indifferent to parental rules and power, however lovingly administered.
Terra ferma's surpassing serenity.
I was so very grateful to land in Chicago in one piece, the anxious hour of shaking quickly forgotten. Thank God for solid ground! As a child of God, I want to enjoy the promise of childlike peace built on the solid ground of mature faith I discussed in another recent blog.
God really wants this for us and of us. Childlike dependence and faith. He offers it repeatedly. He tells us it's available here and now and how.
Peace is a person.
All this contending with the solid food of scripture can leave me feeling like God's love is performance based. It's not. In Christ, we can enjoy the eternal peace of a beloved child of God. We can enjoy that sweet peace of the cradled baby, even when we fail or the world seems to spiral. This baby peace is not dependent on all the good stuff we do (babies don't do much), but on perfect, unconditional mama-dada love earned for us on the cross of Christ. The truth and love and way of Christ is too marvelous for our mortal heads and hearts to fathom.
We enjoy this peace by being ever-mindful of its cost, in a grateful and humble state of total reliance. Neither shame, self-striving, terror, nor infantile ignorance. Child-like dependence on God through Christ.
If anything you read makes you feel pangs of anxiety, irritation, rage, fear, etc., before you dismiss it, please consider getting on your knees right now. Ask for and receive Christ's forgiveness, love, and healing. On the other side of repentance, is the promise of childlike peace we all long for in this increasingly turbulent ride of life.
Grace & peace in Christ alone,