“Okay, coming…” I said nonchalantly, having no idea the heady questions I was about to be asked by my, then 6-year-old, daughter. When I sat down on her bed she proceeded to ask the fundamental question that philosophers have wrestled with since the days of Plato and Aristotle, “Daddy, why are we here?”
The question was eerily similar to a question posed on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond by Raymond’s own daughter. My answer was maybe slightly more nuanced and hopefully a bit more helpful than Raymond’s but boy was I caught off guard by that one. I guess I had expected that Tevia would ponder these kind of existential questions once she was in high school or college but not at age 6… come on that’s just not fair! It’s one thing to banter about philosophical ideas with fellow college students or friends but quite another when you are trying to discuss abstract concepts about purpose and meaning with a child. So that evening I stumbled through my answer for probably longer than I should have before telling her good night and heading to bed but I knew from that point on that I was in for serious challenges in the coming years with my daughter’s search for truth and meaning. Though I certainly prefer my son’s easier questions concerning Luke Skywalker, superheroes and bodily noises, I really appreciate my daughter’s willingness to think deeply about life and to be honest with her questions.
Not long ago Dina called me to my daughter’s room for another series of questions. This time her questions were more theological in nature. She started with questions about the virgin birth and then moved to the doctrine of the Trinity and then to questions involving evolution and the story of Genesis. These were great questions—questions that I have wrestled with for many years myself. We probably talked for about 30 minutes as I tried to answer her questions the best I could without shutting down her quest for the truth with pat religious answers. In the end I shared how I still struggle with some of the same questions particularly on the harmony between science and the scriptures but that ultimately I don’t think God is scared of our questions. Actually I think questions are a serious component of vibrant faith.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a good parent when it comes to spiritual things because I don’t have so many concrete answers for my kids. I wasn’t always this way. If my kids had the version of their dad that existed in my early years as a Christian I would likely have more solid answers for every question they could ask. As a new Christian the world was much more black and white. I knew all of the answers and could spout them off chapter and verse. But as my faith has been tried and tested in numerous ways from intellect to emotions, from relationships to spirituality, I have come to see that everything is not so black and white as it once seemed. I realize that I don’t have all of the answers anymore. Truth be told, at this stage in my spiritual journey I have more questions than ever. I am realizing that God cannot fit into the small religious thinking—the tidy pat answers that I used to offer folks on a moments notice. I guess I have come to believe that how you think is just as important as what you think. Over the years I have seen kids who grew up being taught what to think only and who were never encouraged to ask questions who eventually grew up to be extreme fundamentalists or rebels (or oftentimes fundamentalists atheists… the worst kind of rebel). I don’t think that our world needs more fundamentalist extremists or rebels but sincere Jesus followers who love others even when they are enemies, who consider the needs of others whether poverty, sickness, or alienation, who are marked not by ideology but by humility, love and grace.
In the end my answer to my daughter’s questions went something like this:
I believe the whole point of the first 2 chapters of Genesis is simply that God created everything, and that it all started good… really good and that God made man woman in his own image with a purpose and a plan. That is the main point! The author of Genesis wasn’t trying to answer the scientific questions of our modern rationalistic world. So whether the earth is ten thousand or ten billion years old, I believe God is the one behind it. As for science, I am a big fan and I don’t see my spirituality to be at odds with science, in fact the very complexities of science are to me the very handy-work of our creator. In the end I encouraged my daughter to not waist time arguing with people over these kinds of issues but rather to keep a heart open to God.
A few weeks after our “deep” theological discussion Tevia began to open up with Dina and I about a hard time she was having with someone at her school. Over the next hour or so of we were able to talk about the very words of Jesus concerning loving enemies, forgiveness, and peace in the midst of struggle. These topics were not abstract at all. They were the stuff of everyday life—the simple struggles we face each day that over time can end up defining us. We talked about how hard it is to walk in the truth of Jesus but how it is the path to freedom and love. We closed by praying for this person she was having trouble with and praying for God to give Tevia the grace to love and not hate, to forgive instead of getting bitter. When we finally put her to bed that evening I walked away thankful for the gift of her questions, particularly the questions of that evening. I realized that though I may not have sufficient answers to all of the theological, philosophical, and scientific issues of our day, she is being lead in the path of Jesus in her everyday life. I am betting that this is ultimately what matters most.