Eschatology on the Way to School
For those tracking the progress of my pre-Easter reading project, I do continue to pick away at N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (my pace has slowed considerably over the last few weeks—that’s going to have to be addressed if I’m to finish in time). Right now, I’m in the middle of his discussion of various views of the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and how these differed from the views of the ancient Greeks.
I was thinking about how best to discuss this in a post (and not having much luck) when I had a very interesting conversation with my kids on the walk to school this morning. Somehow, a couple of (unprompted) seven-year-olds on a ten-minute walk managed to touch on a fair number of the topics Wright has addressed thus far in the book. So today’s lesson in eschatology comes in the form of the following conversation:
C. (trudging up the hill on the way to school): Dad, how was God born?
Dad: What do you mean?
C.: Well, how did God become alive?
N.: He didn’t, God was alive before the world.
C.: Huh? Did he make himself?
Dad: Well, we believe that God has always been alive—that he existed before the world was ever around.
N.: Yeah, before even the sun and the moon.
Dad: It’s kind of hard to think about, isn’t it C.? How can someone have always been alive? A lot of grown-ups struggle with the exact questions you’re asking.
C. (feeling quite pleased with herself, by now): Yeah, they’re really big questions—they’re the kind even pastors don’t know the answer to.
Dad: Yes, C., even pastors don’t know everything (she was bound to find out sooner or later…).
C. (after a few moments of silence): So Dad, when we look up at the sky we’re looking at God, right?
Dad: Well, not exactly. The sky isn’t the same thing as God or a part of God. God made the sky, but it’s still something different from God.
N.: Well, heaven is in the sky! It’s in the clouds.
Dad: Well, we’re not exactly sure where heaven is—it’s beyond what we can see and hear, and we think of it as “above” us, but it’s probably not technically in the clouds.
N.: But Dad, when we die we go to heaven.
Dad: What do you mean by that (I couldn’t resist)?
N.: Well, our bodies don’t go to heaven, but our souls do.
(Dad is intrigued—and growing curious as to what kind of Platonic concoction he is about to be presented with…)
C.: Yeah, because our bodies are made of dust and water but our souls aren’t.
N: Our souls go to be with God and then later on God gives us a new body.
Dad (reasonably sure that N.T. Wright would be impressed by the direction the discussion has taken): That’s really good, N. Why do you think we need new bodies?
C. (always quicker off the draw than N.): Because these ones get sick and old and die. We need better ones.
Dad: You’re right, C., we do need better ones.
N.: So God gives us new ones.
Dad (hearing the bell ring, two blocks from school): Wow, we’re late. You guys asked some good questions today!
N.: Dad, we were asking church questions weren’t we?
Dad: What do you mean?
N.: Questions about God and souls and new bodies—those are church questions.
Dad: Well, we talk about those kinds of questions in church, but they’re not just church questions, N.. They’re questions for all of life. You don’t have to be in church to ask those questions. They affect all of us. You can ask them wherever you want.
(Long pause… Apparently the kids are more interested in all things eschatological than they are in addressing the privatization of religion in our postmodern context.)
C.: Are we almost there? My back hurts.
As always, the topic of conversation with young kids can turn at breakneck speed… Needless to say I was quite impressed by the amount of ground we were able to cover in ten short minutes: dualism, pantheism, the nature of God, cosmology, the problem of evil, the physicality of the Christian hope, religion’s role in the public sphere… That’s a fairly robust discussion, on almost any calculus.
I feel bad for the kids’ teacher. How is borrowing from the “tens” column and show-and-tell supposed to compete with what preceded them on the way to school?