With the rest of the family at youth retreats, it is only my eight-year old and myself for most of the weekend.
We had plans, he and I: movies, snacks, baking muffins, games. We did it all, too. We baked pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread, watched movies, played chess and a game called “Scrambled States of America”. He played the Wii. I read a few chapters of a book.
The first night, he didn’t want to sleep alone in the room that he shares with his big brother.
“Your room is warmer, ” his big brown eyes plead. “Your blankets are softer. There might be monsters…”
I acquiesce and allow him to sleep in my room. After all, I know he’ll outgrow this stage quickly. He brings his light blue plaid fleece blanket with him (named “fluffy”) and snuggles under the log cabin quilt. The dark green walls fade to black as I turn out the light. As soon as the lights go out, he is restless and wants to talk. Turns out, it is to be the night of deep questions.
“Why is life so hard?” he begins right away.
Well. I wasn’t expecting this question.
“What makes your life hard?” I ask, because before launching on this topic, I want to know what in life is hard for him. It’s not that I don’t think an eight-year-old can have a hard life– I believe he is asking in all sincerity. He knows life is hard, and for this I am glad. I have said it, and he’s experienced it: “Life is hard. Life is not fair.” But, I am curious to know-what is hard for him specifically?
“I have a brother. And I’m the youngest. Why am I the youngest?” he asks.
It is no secret that there is some jabbing and scuffling between the two. But despite this, he misses his big brother and even admits it. “It’s boring without him. There’s nothing to do,” he says at one point during the “boring” weekend. :)
Is there some sort of correlation between being the youngest and life being hard? I think of how many times this question has been asked over the years, in homes all over the world. For some reason, I am reminded of “The Sound of Music” and the littlest one, Gretel, asking, “Why am I always last?” A wise grown-up answers, “Because you’re the most important!” This satisfies Gretel. But I know this boy won’t accept that answer. His question is, I think, a variation of the question that we adults ask at times, too: “Why me? Why am I last? Looked over? Forgotten? Sick? Lost? Jobless? etc.”
Before I can even answer why life is hard, he sighs deeply and tells me he already knows the answer.
“Oh, don’t tell me, I already know why life is hard. It’s because of Adam and Eve’s sin,” he explains.
We’ve talked about this before–the fall and it’s ramifications. Why there is sin in the world. The curse and the toiling of the ground. A lot of bad stuff came after the fall in Eden. He knows it. In his childlike, yet grown-up way, he makes the connection between a hard life and the fall.
But, I’m not off the hook. It gets harder. He fires off another tough question.
“What is the meaning of life?” he asks.
I stop, catch my breath. What? What is the meaning of life? From my 8 year old? I’m surely not expecting this. Why is life hard– Ok– I can expect that at some point. But this– this is a surprise question from my youngest child at 10 pm.
My mind goes through any number of responses, including telling him that philosophers and humankind have been wrestling with this question since Adam. I didn’t grow up in a denomination that taught any sort of catechisms, but as an adult, I learned an answer to this question, through some discussions with others at church, which satisfied me then, offers a concrete answer to myself and to others who ask the question, and it still makes sense to me.
“The purpose of life is to know God, love Him, and enjoy Him.” That’s my answer.
The exact words of the beginning of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is what I’m rephrasing, actually go like this:
Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.
Though I don’t remember most of it, I have never forgotten that first question and answer. Apparently the answer satisfies him, too, as he moves on quickly to the next question:
“Why did God create people, so many people?”
His older brother likes facts and figures and has a little ticker on the computer that shows the world’s population in real time, as it is happening, with the numbers increasing every second. (Did you know that in approximately 20 days, the world’s population will reach exactly 7 billion?)
I answer, “God loves us so much, He has so much love, He wants companionship. He wants us, someone to love, so he made us. He made people.” I know there is more to this answer, but this is what I came up with at the moment.
His response: “But why did God make people after Satan sinned? He made people after what happened in heaven.”
I realize that he is referring to the rebellion of Lucifer in heaven, before the creation of Adam and Eve. Even with the knowledge that Satan is in the world (the bad guy), my son is asking, why did God do it– make people? He is trying to make sense of it. Why did God make people with a bad guy lurking around, trying to tempt us, lure us away from Himself? Why? Yes, that is a good question indeed.
Thankfully, God gives me an answer the second I need it.
“God’s love doesn’t change because of what happened before people came, before Adam and Eve. He still wanted us,” I said. “He still wanted people. His love for us and his plan doesn’t change because of what Satan does.”
I go through this answer in my head, making sure I’m not saying something that isn’t accurate. According to His word, He never changes. He has loved us from the beginning. His love doesn’t change for us because of Satan. In fact, it shows just how much He loves us, because He makes a plan to rescue us, so we can be with Him and Him with us.
And then he moves on to the next question.”Will there be Bibles in heaven?” he wants to know.
Ha, ha. I chuckle a little inside. I’ve certainly never thought of this. I try to reason this one out in my head. If we’re in heaven, in the presence of God, will we know all we need to know of God? Or will we still need more teaching, will there be more to learn? Isn’t this physical life a preparation for heaven, for eternity? Furthermore, I know that my time on earth isn’t sufficient to know all there is of God. Won’t I know Him more fully in heaven… but will it be so completely that there is nothing left to know? Will it take an eternity to know and understand? Will the learning take place simply by being in His presence (and not through His word)? I’m stumped on this one.
“I don’t know,” I say.I have to ponder this further. (Maybe it’s simple and I’m making it complicated, but while there may not be physical Bibles in heaven, there is a spiritual counterpart… which is Jesus himself. He is “The Word” after all. Perhaps that is the answer… and I came up with this two days later, I must say. Seems so obvious now. :)
“Will Adam and Eve be in Heaven? What about David? What about Solomon? What about Elijah?” He’s ready with another round.
We go through each case (very briefly). “I don’t know about Adam and Eve,” I say. “Adam walked with God. Adam and Eve had close communion with God. I’m sure they repented when they sinned, I can imagine they felt very badly about what was lost. But I don’t really know if they are in heaven. But, I’m fairly certain David is there, and we do know Elijah is there.”
My son listens and moves on. “But Solomon did some bad things.”
“Yes,” I say, “but we’ve all done bad things, so that alone doesn’t mean he doesn’t go to Heaven. Also, Solomon was the wisest man on earth. I don’t really know what happens to Solomon. But I believe God is fair.”
“What about babies?” he asks. “What happens to babies?”
He is pretty concerned about this one. What does God do with babies? I know this has been asked and discussed by many smart people before, and at this moment, I wish I knew what they have to say. :)
“Well,” I begin, “God is fair, merciful and just. He knows just what to do with babies. Does he know what you will do before you do something?” I ask.
“Yes,” he answers.
“Well, God knows the heart of every baby, too, and He’ll be fair and merciful.”
I don’t know what else to say. We’re all born with sin, so I stick with that truth in my answer, because I know that even though babies are beautiful, cute, precious, and cuddly and we love them– it is also true that we are all born with a sin nature. Yet, they aren’t at an age of accountability… so logically the next question is when exactly is that age, and is it the same age for each person? Oh my, tough one. I don’t really know. But I trust that God will be fair, He can see our hearts, so that is what I try to convey.
“Oh, so God knows everything, so He knows about the babies, too,” he concludes.
And so ends the conversation of deep questions.
From the mouth of a babe himself, a young child, comes some important questions. Deep questions from one so young, who’s just waking up and beginning to live, whose faith is just budding. I thank God for this gift, the opportunity to listen and to share.
So here’s what I’d like to say to my children:
“A lifetime awaits in front of you. Keep asking. Keep wondering. Keep seeking. Keep praying. Follow God, and you’ll find what you are looking for. Keep following Him, and you’ll know peace and you’ll know what love really is. He has the answers to all of your questions. And finally, remember this: Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. I Timothy 4:12.
Sharing with Laura
and with L.L. Barkat
and Jen at Finding Heaven