Forming Faith Blog

No Crying He Makes? (The Ideal Child)

It’s difficult to figure out how to balance Jesus’ divinity and humanity, but if we portray him as an unreal ideal, we do a disservice to our children and ourselves.

If Jesus is the ideal child, does that mean he doesn't cry?
The Ideal Child (Part 2 of 3)

As summer comes to an end and the program year looms ever closer, I am writing my last “topical” faith formation series before the Narrative Lectionary (Year 1) begins. As you might know, during the main Narrative Lectionary year, this blog is primarily devoted to faith-formation-based commentary on the upcoming NL reading.

This current series is on what I call the “Ideal Child.” As I described last week, I see a risky, mostly subconscious vision of children that can pop up, specifically in relation to our teachings on a child-like faith.

As I said as a caveat last week, I am not coming at this topic as an expert in children’s faith development (that’s why I have a team of experienced Christian education professionals in our product development). I’m coming at this as a parent and someone who is theologically educated. And this “ideal child” is not a common, conscious mindset, but it is instead something subconscious.

No Crying He Makes

Each Christmas, I hear and sing the popular Christmas hymn “Away in a Manger.” While I like the hymn, one line always bothers me.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.

There are plenty of times that a newborn or infant can wake up happy and not cry, that is not the impression I’ve had about this song in all my years of singing it. Whatever the hymnwriter’s intention was, this line suggests that when Jesus is woken up by animal noises, he doesn’t cry because he is the Lord Jesus. Did Jesus cry as an infant? Could he have been colicky and kept his weary parents up all night?

Christology and the Ideal Child

If there ever was an “ideal child,” it would have to be Jesus. Jesus is, in fact, the Word made flesh, God incarnate. In his mortal life, he was just like us—but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He would have to be the perfect child, right?

Christology, like its sister discipline on the theology of the Trinity, is an extraordinarily complex topic that has led to many conflicts throughout Christian history. But the primary branch of Christianity that eventually became the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic Church, and later the Protestant churches agreed mostly on the teachings that, oversimplified, states that Jesus was “fully human and fully divine.”

But what does this mean in a practical sense, and specifically, was does this mean for children today? Did Jesus never cry, never frustrate his parents, never act rebelliously? If those are believed to be true (even subconsciously), then when our children cry, frustrate the heck out of their parents, and test the limits of parental authority, then they are moving further and further from the ideal. This is even if these behaviors are a natural part of child development, being human.

Subconscious Effects

Again, I’m not saying that any of this is what most people believe most of the time. But I do think that this can sneak into our subconscious at times. It can affect our expectations for children, youth, and even ourselves. They are from different perspective than I am looking at here, but similar thoughts can be seen in this teacher’s blog and even a blog post from Psychology Today.

Fully Human

I think a better way to look at Jesus is to balance the “fully divine” with the “fully human.” I affirm that Jesus is God incarnate, and I understand at least some of the consequences of that teaching. But I can’t say that I truly understand what that means. What I do understand is being fully human.

Jesus was fully human, which means he cried as a baby, pooped his swaddling clothes, maybe had a hard time with potty training, went through a period of testing his parents’ limits, stressing his parents out, and overall participated in the human experience, even if he did this without being selfish (sin). How am I confident saying this? We can’t say about his early childhood, but we do have the story of “boy Jesus in the temple” in the Gospel of Luke. In that story, Jesus might have been doing the right thing by focusing on God, but he was inconsiderate of his parents and caused them to freak out for three to four days! That kind of does sound like what a focused pre-teen might do.

Faith Formation Connection

How can this idealization of Jesus affect our faith formation practices? Basically, I think it’s the same as last week. We can consider whether this type of thinking is influencing people in church. We can see where it might be causing problems. And we can teach a more grounded understanding of Jesus so that children, youth, and even adults can see that Jesus is just like them.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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