Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Questions about God.

Tonight I had an interesting conversation with my five-year old twins. They are very curious and inquisitive about everything in life. I attempt to always answer their questions with honesty and sensitivity. I love how their minds work and the incredible amount of information that they are able to retain in those developing brains of theirs.

So tonight we had a discussion about God, Jesus, flying, thunderstorms, dragons and rainbows. It all began when my little guy asked if Jesus could fly and walk on water because he was from heaven. I asked what he thought about that (a great trick to deflect answering a questions you don't have the answer to). He said, "Of course he can do anything." I said that is true. He followed up with, "Are all the things in the bible true?" (We have been having a lot of discussions about fiction vs. fact and fantasy vs. reality as of late. For instance Buzz Light Year is a character and therefor not real. Or Dinosaurs did live on the earth and were real even though they are all dead now. So you get the idea of what is bouncing around in this kids head. He is sorting out his world and trying to make sense of it in very black and white terms.) I responded to his question by saying, "the bible has many truths and some really great things to teach us." He pressed the question again by telling me that, "huge thunderstorms happen and one time God sent a rainbow to say he would never do it again." I told him that was true. He became serious and told me that all the people that lived in the bible are dead and he wanted to know why. I tried to explain that people do not live for thousands or millions of years but rather for like 90 or 100 years. It has been thousands of years since the biblical times, so yes they are all dead. I tried to explain how this is a natural process and that it is ok. But I wanted to be careful to not go down the road of "everyone dies." I could tell that little man was getting troubled. He wanted to understand and he wanted to make sense of it all.

His sister jumped in and with all the authority she could muster stated, "the bible is truth." It worked and the little man moved onto asking where God lived and how can he be in my heart. (Oh great! He is going for it tonight, I thought. I had made a point of never saying the favorite Christian phrase "he lives in your heart" to my kids. But certain, ahem, family members decided to take it upon themselves to lay out this whole ridiculous metaphor. Now how in the hell do you undo something like that and explain a metaphor to a 5 year old?  Answer: YOU DON'T!!!! So I did what I had previously in the conversation and threw the question back in the little man's court. He paused a moment and said, "He is God and he can do what he wants and be where he wants." I smiled and said, "yup".

Anyhow this entire conversation got me thinking. Or more so it got me back on a subject I have been thinking on for sometime....the facts of the Bible and Christianity. I was taught that those words written on those pages were infallible, utter and complete truth. They are God's words written on paper, not to be questioned and to be followed to the letter. I lived that way for sometime...well a LONG time..too long. Now in the past two years I really wonder about all that. Seven day creation story? Burning bushes? God writing on tablets? Flood? An arch carrying every animal species? Walking on water? Come on. Could these have been oral traditions/parables told and passed down to teach an idea, a moral or ethical way of living? Probably yes. Do I look at the Bible as black and white truth, um pretty much no. So when my kids come to me and want black and white answers and are trying to sort out their world I really am stumped. I want them to keep the wide eyed wonder of childhood but I don't want them growing up being naive like I did. I want them to take the lessons of the bible....loving others, ethics, morals, kindness, the idea of a greater power-God, a savior-Jesus, and become giving and caring adults. I want them to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions about spirituality. I don't want to force feed them. So I am left with the struggle of instilling these principals while not lying to them about my own doubts and ideas about the bible, God, and religion.

Walking the tight rope, Annie

PS. I forgot to ad that the little man also asked me if dragons were real. I would have said no, but a few months back I watched a Discovery Channel documentary about how they probably did exist. Holy fuck, who knew!?!?!


  1. When I was 5, not only did I believe that Jesus literally lived in my heart, I thought all his disciples were in there, too. I was amazed at how small they must all be. Every time I did something bad, I thought Jesus and the disciples got angry and moved out until I asked for forgiveness. I had a clear mental image of Jesus, complete with white robe, pre-Passion week blue sash, and a kick-ass 70s hard-shelled suitcase. He would point his thumb over his shoulder, throw his head to the side and say, "We're outta here, boys."

  2. I am curious why you avoid the "living in your heart" seems like there are lots of things we explain to kids through metaphors because they are easily grasped. Metaphors can pack a lot of meaning into a small space. The heart as the seat of emotions and love is all over the place in society, not just religion. So it seems logical to me that that's where we'd want to associate our love for God. I'd be interested to hear more about why you object to it so much...

  3. Great post! I like the re-direct strategy; so often I try to have an answer for Oliver. Maybe if I throw it back to him, I'll get to know him even more. Good idea.

    Also: good point on the metaphors. Christian metaphors are a tough one to explain to adults, much less a child, if the philosophy and syntax of Christianity aren't already learned or familiar. On the other hand, children aren't as apt to question the statement - they'll just take it literally, as Rachel did. Hah, I got such a great mental pic of that one.

  4. @Amy, I agree that the heart is the seat of emotions, and I like using that as a way to explain the concept of feeling to children. And I also agree that associating our love for God can be talked about in terms of heart. I do think it gets confusing when we say "God/Jesus lives in our heart." I guess I feel it might be better explained by "my love for God/Jesus resonates and comes FROM my heart." I can only speak from personal experience of being confused by this concept of "living in the heart" as a child and how it has already tweaked my own kiddos.

    As for other Christian-ese metaphors: "Born Again" and "Washed in the Blood" are the two that stand out to me as confusing. I agree with Sassy that this can be hard to explain to adults too! I remember trying to explain these concepts to non-christian friends and them looking at me sideways like I was speaking a foreign language.

    What troubles me is the extreme people in the media that speak on behalf of Christians or call themselves Christians and spout off some crazy shit (case in point Quran burning pastor) that cause others to associate "Christian, Born Again, etc" with people like that! I feel like if I can speak to my children and teach my children concepts of religion and spirituality in terms that make sense and sound 'normal' that maybe they won't appear to be freaks.

    But I am still figuring it out. Of course the fear comes from my own days as the FREAKY-Christian-girl-that-had-her-head-up-her-ass-about-the-world. So I am sure I am going to cause the kids to have their own problems and distorted view of the world like I did.....

  5. See, I don't think it's a bad thing that children take the metaphors literally. Small children are concrete, so giving them metaphors or mental pictures for abstract concepts helps them to gain a framework to understand it. I might worry if an adult still pictured Jesus physically inhabiting an internal organ, lol, but a child? How else are they going to understand the idea that Jesus can transform every aspect of their lives? Again, it's important to remember that kids taking things literally is not them being naive, but rather them being kids. As they grow up they will realize that the metaphor was simplified for them and as they choose to grow in their faith (or not, I guess) they will grow out of it. Just as you did, know what I mean? I remember picturing a broom to sweep up, a couch, and a fireplace in my heart. :) But of course as I gained abstract reasoning I understood that wasn't really that way. That abstract reasoning doesn't generally come until late in elementary school.

    I so hear you and 100% agree about the people who claim to speak for all Christians and who really are crazy or worse. We've talked about that before...I don't know what the answer is, either. I try to teach the kids like you said in your original post, about morals, ethics, God, Jesus. But I really don't use the word "Christian" very often. Maybe I should, I don't know.

    But I do know that I don't want them to lose out on the richness of the good parts of the Christian tradition just because some of them have been spoiled. And you're right...I had to laugh when I read that...we are probably going to give them their own brand of weird while we're trying to avoid another. LOL.