On Alien-Angels with Evil-Detectors… and Horses
As I’ve remarked on numerous occasions here, I have over the years found kids—my own and others’—to be among the most reliable and thought-provoking sources of theological insight that God has seen fit to gift me with. I love their questions, the way in which they process things, and, perhaps most important of all, the delightful irreverence and curiosity with which they approach many religious ideas that so many of us grown ups have spent years dutifully affirming.
A few years ago I wrote a post called “Eschatology on the Way to School.” I suppose today’s lunchtime conversation with my kids could be characterized as “eschatology on a day home from school.”
N (in between mouthfuls of soup): Dad, you know that the world could end at any time right?
Dad: Mmm. Is that right? How?
N: Well, it could happen in a bunch of ways. The sun could burn up. But that would take like billions and billions of years. Also, the earth could get hit by an asteroid.
D: Sounds pretty nasty.
N: Yup, we’d be done.
C: OR… God could come back and take all of us up to heaven before he destroys the earth.
Dad (growing mildly alarmed at the Left Behind-ish turn the conversation is taking… Where do they hear this stuff?!): Do you think God is going to destroy the world, C.? Or renew it?
C: Oh yeah, that’s what I meant [Obviously, Dad… Who wouldn’t assume “destroy” meant, “renew?” Sheesh.] God’s gonna bring us all up to heaven while he gets rid of the evil and then he’ll send us back.
Dad: How’s God gonna do all that?
N: I think it will be like a UFO coming. A bunch of aliens… I mean angels, will come and load us on to their ship.
N: Yeah, aliens and angels are basically the same thing.
Dad (growing increasingly curious): OK, so the angel-aliens come get us so God can get rid of the evil. How is God going to do this?
C: Well, while we’re in heaven, he’ll just clean it all up. You know, he’ll get rid of all the guns and cigarettes and stuff.
Dad (smiling loudly): Guns and cigarettes?
C: Yup. Other stuff, too.
Dad: But where does the evil come from?
C: Well, it’s behind corners and in trees. It hides. It comes from hell, from the devil and his minions.
Dad: But isn’t some of the evil inside of human beings? How is God going to get rid of all that if it’s in heaven with us.
N: Well, the alien/angels will have to zap us with their lasers while we’re in heaven. On the forehead.
Dad: Of course [This is so much more fun that theology textbooks!]
C: I think it will be like those machines at the airport that check to see if you’re bringing something you’re not supposed to on the plane.
N: Yeah. Like a full body evil scan. You need to get an evil check before you leave heaven, before God will let you go back to earth.
C: Yup. And then I would get a horse.
I thought about our lunchtime eschatological musings as I was driving about this afternoon. It was neat to have this little tour around the eleven-year-old theological mind. How fascinating, the way in which they link together wildly disparate concepts and hopes and dreams. The result probably wouldn’t pass many tests of orthodoxy, and quite likely had as much to do with Iron Man and Star Wars as it did with Scripture. But it did give expression to their very real sense that things are not as they ought to be and that one day—whether billions of years from now or later this afternoon—God will put things back together as they ought to be.
Truth be told, I’m not sure how much clearer and more accurate picture of the eschaton some of us “sensible” grown ups can offer. None of us knows what this will look like. We raid around in our cupboard of metaphors and come up with images of lions and lambs and swords and plowshares and streets of gold and books of life and lampstands and trees of life with magic leaves that will heal the nations. These metaphors are all rooted in Scripture, to be sure, and are beautiful and compelling in the way that they speak to the hope of newness and possibility.
But today, I’m having a lot of fun imagining getting snatched up by a divine UFO full of alien-angels and going through God’s evil detector in the clouds while God gets rid of the guns and cigarettes on earth and makes sure there’s a horse waiting for a little girl upon her return.