I love hearing stories from my friends about their kids. One story I particularly love and tell often in sermons comes from one couple introducing the story of the Bible to their, at the time, 5 year old. They were telling the story of Adam and Eve taking and eating the fruit that God had instructed them not to eat. In doing so, they emphasized that with eating of the fruit, it wasn’t just bad, it would produce a dire consequence: death. As they emphasized this point, their 5 year old sat there processing the information and after considering it, looked up at them and asked, “was the fruit juicy?”
It’s a silly story but I use it to illustrate that deep down, I think we’re all this 5 year old. There are times when the child within us comes out and we ask questions like, “was the fruit juicy?”, there are times when the child within us almost comes out but then we suppress it, and most of the time, we’ve become so good at suppressing the child within us that we don’t even realize it’s there.
Daniel Lieberman’s book, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, touches on the idea that we have an unconscious (what the child within us is part of) that we don’t always acknowledge and yet always depend on. Lieberman attributes various human functions to our unconscious. Some of these include: our nervous system and all the things our body does without thinking, our mental storage systems, our habits, and even things like focus and feeling “on”. He seems to imply that as we have embraced the age of scientific rationalism, some of the “magical instinct” of our unconscious is deliberately cut off and lost, leaving us un-whole. In a time when life seems increasingly difficult, Lieberman says that what we need is not to detach further from our unconscious, but to lean into our unconscious self and contends that if we can do so without being overwhelmed, we can become the people we were meant to be.
This is not to say that we should always ask our “was the fruit juicy?” questions out loud, but maybe even for Adam and Eve, in order to understand what was really at stake, they needed to pause and at least consider the question. Without considering our questions and confronting our unconscious, we end up living a shallow life, trying to follow rules and norms without really knowing why we do.
I’m reminded of the “elders of the people” in Matthew 21 that challenged Jesus’s authority in the temple, asking “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answers with his own question about the baptism of John, asking “from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” As the elders pondered amongst themselves, not once did they consider what they truly felt or what might be true, rather they discussed the consequences of each choice on their image to the crowds.
The elders of the people, religious leaders, and pharisees embodied Lieberman’s warning against cutting off the unconscious. Their intention was good: follow the rules in order to be obedient. But they seem to have gotten lost in their own ego (maybe a pun, I’m still unsure I entirely understand what ego means in psychology). They saw their story with God as actions that were right or wrong, and as Lieberman puts it, perhaps it was too rational and they were seeing the world God had created (with them in it) in black and white when it could be filled with color. In doing so, they seemed to know, in reason and language, but not experience and understand.
On the surface, Christians don’t want to identify with the elders and religious leaders, we want to identify as God’s children, the ones that Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to. And yet ironically, in the way we’ve built our values and worth, we, practically speaking, would much rather people see us as the elders and religious leaders than children. Perhaps much like Jesus valued children by calling them to come, we should value the child and unconscious within us by spending more time discovering, attending to, and praying over the children within us. Perhaps by cultivating that magical spirit, we may, as Jesus says, receive the kingdom of God like a child and as a result, enter.
 Daniel Lieberman, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, (Dallas: BenBella Books, 2022), 13.
 Ibid, 14.
 Ibid, 15.
 Ibid, 17.
 Ibid, 18.
 Ibid, 97.
 Matt 27:23, ESV
 Matt 27:24
 Matt 27:25-27
 Daniel Lieberman, Spellbound, 23.
 Ibid, 222.
 Luke 18:15