Arnold was perhaps unique in the attention he paid to the words of Jesus about children and about becoming childlike. For this reason, he often bemoaned his theological bent, which he saw not only as a gift but also as a curse. He was drawn to children and those people whom others looked down on as simple-minded. And he urged his friends, theologians and philosophers alike, to bow down before God and become children.
Ernst, we are fellow sufferers. We both have a theological vein. This is a gift from God, but it is at the same time a great danger that makes it very hard to live completely from what is genuine, from the depths of one’s being, from the direct source of being. Years ago I wished that I had grown up as an industrial worker. But that was a foolish wish. We cannot change who we are. And yet we must become free from theological introspection; we must be won for the holy cause by a glowing, inner fire. You must become free first from your pronounced tendency to theologize, and second from your own markedly cramped will. Accept your fate: you are a theologian. But now you must become a child!
The kingdom of God belongs to children. For this reason we can be led to the divine truth only if we have the childlike spirit. Certainly that does not mean that we should not be real men and women; the childlike spirit is not childish but rather unites itself with real manhood and real womanhood. It is the spirit of confident trust, of humility and endurance – the spirit that rejoices and loses itself in the object of its love and is released from self-contemplation. It gives itself completely, unaware of strain and sacrifice, and spends itself as though absorbed in play. It is the spirit of courage, for the true child – like the true man or woman - is never afraid or fearful. It is the answer to all our needs, for the childlike spirit comes from the Holy Spirit. And we must believe that this Spirit really exists and that we can receive it.
Adapted from Johann Christoph Arnold, ed. Eberhard Arnold, Modern Spiritual Masters (Rifton, NY: Plough, 2011). The two paragraphs are excerpted from meeting transcripts, and the complete texts can be read in our digital archive: March 26, 1933; and August 10, 1933.