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A Three-Year-Old’s Theology: On Gratitude

October 18, 2017
The Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

The Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

TOKYO AIRPORT — A few weeks ago, I wrote about my granddaughter, Josephine, and her theologically profound comments about tragedy and natural disaster. This was neither the first nor the last time that Josephine’s words have cause me to think deeply about God, the Bible, and life.

This should not surprise us.

In the gospels, we frequently find Jesus making time to be with children. When his disciples would try to push them away, he would say things like this: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it” (Luke 19:16-17).

What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child? For one, it involves seriously engaging their thoughts and perspectives about life to see what God might be revealing to us about Himself and His kingdom through their eyes.

I am reminded of this whenever I hear Josephine pray.

Her parents began teaching her to pray as soon as she could talk. And at first, she would simply follow their words as they prayed with her each night and before meals. But recently, she has begun praying on her own. You never really know what she is going to say, except at the beginning of her prayers.

She begins most prayers like this: “Lord, thank you for Noah’s Ark and for Disney World…” Then she goes on to thank God for more normal things like family, friends, her teachers at school, the weather, etc.

Thank you for Noah’s Ark…

This point of gratitude is less bizarre if you know that Noah’s Ark is one of Josephine’s favorite Bible stories. She has Noah’s Ark toys; she has bookmarked Noah’s Ark in her children’s Bible; and she even got to visit the “real thing” in Kentucky with me and Deborah a few months ago.

And for Disney World…

In July after the Build Conference, we took Josephine to Disney World for the first time in her life. Ever since then, she has been obsessed with all things Minnie Mouse. She has Minnie Mouse pajamas, Minnie Mouse dolls, Minnie Mouse ears, Minnie Mouse coloring books, Minnie Mouse socks, etc.

While it might be tempting to write off Josephine’s prayer as three-year-old cuteness and nothing more, I think there is something profound that we can learn about gratitude and the kingdom.

First, we (like Josephine) should thank God more often for Noah’s Ark. His decision to save one man and his family was an act of sovereign grace that changed the course of redemptive history. Of course, Noah’s Ark points to a later, more complete work of redemption in Jesus. But this early story of God’s saving work provides us with a beautiful picture of God’s grace in the face of man’s depravity and God’s care for His creation in the midst of natural disaster. Stories like this are making a gospel imprint on little Josephine’s imagination and should never stop impressing on our imaginations either.

Second, though many adults (including myself) wish Disney World didn’t exist (or at least had shorter lines and less humidity), Josephine’s love of Magic Kingdom demonstrates that all humans—three-year-olds to ninety-three-year-olds—are longing for a kingdom where joy, celebration, awe, and wonder are the norm. We, like Josephine, know that most places are not like Disney World. Most places we inhabit are marked with suffering, futility, and lack. We, like Josephine, long for the coming of God’s kingdom—when every tear will be wiped away, every relationship will be restored, and every heart will be glad. For Josephine, Disney World is one of the closest representations of that kingdom reality (that she has personally experienced), not only because of the castles and real life princesses, but also because her entire family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, etc.) spent the money and endured the heat to make the day special for her.

While the opening words of Josephine’s prayer offer an unexpected juxtaposition (Noah’s Ark and Disney World), they point us to two things we should all thank God for everyday: His redemptive work in history and His coming kingdom.

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