When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:11)
Saint Basil the Great (d.379AD) offers a reflection on the difference between the thinking of a child and that of an adult. Childish thinking, according to him, is focused on the moment – instant gratification.
“As long as each of us is a child, pursuing the pleasure of the moment, he has no care for the future; but, when he has become a man, after his judgement is perfected, he seems. as it were, to see his life divided for him between virtue and evil, and frequently turning the eye of his soul upon each, he separates the analogous traits that belong to each. The life of the sinner shows all the pleasure of the present age; that of the just reveals in a slight measure the blessings of the future alone.” ( The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 160)
According to St. Basil, once we leave the childish thinking of instant gratification behind and mature as an adult, the choice before us becomes more complex. As we mature we come to value the future as well. And because of this changing sense of values, we become aware that there is a difference between virtue and evil. What separates the sheep from the goats – Matthew 25’s way of referring to people – is that the sinner continues to look for pleasure only in this world and only in the present age. The righteous, however, are able to reveal the blessings of the age to come, even if in a limited way. Saints do not live for themselves alone, nor for the present alone. They understand the greater reality of which the present is only a small part. The role of the righteous is to help manifest the blessings of the age to come in their lives in the present age. The kingdom of God begins to break into this world through the saints of God. Those who cannot see beyond instant gratification see nothing beyond themselves.