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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?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike C. #

    Thanks Ryan – I love your kids!

    February 12, 2009
  2. dilys #

    nothing compares to a bit of end times served bright and early in the morning.

    i have all respect for your kids; i can barely squeeze out a coherent thought on my morning commute. i just plug in the ipod on most days, or gaze out the window.

    February 12, 2009
  3. Thanks dilys… Trust me, the other morning was the exception not the rule. On most of our commutes, the conversations are substantially less speculative (to put it mildly!).

    February 13, 2009
  4. Tyler Brown #

    Great conversation. Forget meeting with you, I am meeting with your kids from now on.

    Joking aside,

    I know the bible stresses the importance of loving the creator rather than created, but thinking of this quote,

    “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.”

    Is there not an element of God in each of his creations? This has always confused me. Aristotle (sorry but I love his thinking) argues that within each particular exists the universal form, and for the universal form to exist there must have been, is, or will be a particular based on the universal. So for anything to exist in a particular must it not have a universal? and is that universal in Christianity not God? Back to the question, does God not exist in what he has created? Maybe it is wrong to apply Aristotle on Christianity, but it is a fairly solid argument.

    Maybe this question merits a visit 😉

    February 13, 2009
  5. Hey Tyler, I can check with the kids to see when they have office hours… 🙂

    I don’t think it’s inappropriate to appeal to Aristotle on questions like this—there are many very compelling features of his thought. I guess I would want to know more about the nature of the connection between universal and particular that Aristotle argues for—what it gives us that we don’t have if we claim the particulars exist as a result of the divine will. Is there some kind of necessary connection between the two (i.e., the particulars require the universal or vice versa)? Why?

    I think there is an important difference between saying that God “exists in what he has created” and God is “implied or pointed to in what he has created.” The psalmists use the language of nature “declaring the glory of God”—kind of like good art “declaring” the creativity of the artist. We might say that an artist “exists” in her painting but I think we would mean this in a metaphorical sense—something of the artist’s creativity, vision, purpose, etc “exists” in what she has made. In this metaphorical sense, I would be comfortable saying that God “exists” in creation. On a more technical level, I would have a problem.

    (You can come in and correct my reading of Aristotle anytime)!

    February 14, 2009

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