“What is salt made of?”
The best conversations start out this unassuming. Eleven had some deep questions and salt was the best place to start.
I thought for a moment, trying to conjure up fragments of information from my biological science class. “Salt is a crystal made from minerals. If you looked at it under a microscope, it would look like uncut diamonds.”
Not Yet Satisfied asked, “Well, who was the first person to make things like salt?”
“Are you asking about the first of everything?” I’m a closet mind reader.
“Well,” began my genius bequeathment of eternal knowledge, “when God made the very first person…”
“Wait, start with who made God.”
“Oh, there is no start to that. He’s always been.” This is one of many slow motion moments where I may sound like a lunatic to the one I’ve taught to be outspoken. And I’m fully aware I built my own gallows by urging my children to think for themselves and question everything until it becomes nonsense or truth.
“No,” says my obedient questioner. “Who made him up?”
“Nobody made Him up.” I pause so that I can read her face. “He made us up.”
Her face tells me that I need to explain. “God has always been…” Churchy-habit forced me to add, ” and He always will be.”
She didn’t get it.
“You know how outer space doesn’t have an end? Like, you’ll never be stopped if you travel in one direction? There is no end to the space?” I know I’m speaking perspective-relative gibberish while failing to mention the numerous pitfalls of space travel, but I’m unrehearsed and this is where my brain went.
“Exactly.” I went with the ‘comfort in the unknown’ approach because that’s the point. “There are a ton of things we can’t swell our brains to fit. But, we are accustomed to shrinking everything down to a manageable size. We need to know where we are in relation to where we live. We need to know where in the town our house is located. Where in the state our town is located. Where in the country our state is located. Where in the world our country is located and people usually stop there. But we have a location in a galaxy and a galactic location in space that is entirely unexplored and completely unknown. It’s called space because it takes up room, but is mostly undefined.”
I watched it dawn … “There are tons of things we can’t shrink to fit our understanding. God is one of them. He has always been.”
The satisfied question gives birth to a dissatisfied question. “Why did he make us?”
“He made us so that He would have something to love that would love Him back.” I wonder if it’s too simple. “You were made on purpose and for a purpose. You’ll spend your life learning how to love, how to discover, how to survive, how to create, and somewhere in there you’ll feel a deep calling to Something More and you’ll start being able to hear God. You were made to be in a relationship with Him and with each other.
“The problem is, sometimes our relationships with each other can get in the way of our relationship with Him. Sometimes our relationships with ourselves can get in the way of our relationship with Him.”
“Well, while we’re busy being people and figuring things out, we make choices. We make choices all the time that tangle us up in guilt and regret. God gave people a way to keep the guilt at bay and a way to clear the slate periodically.”
“You know the story of Adam and Eve?” I assume she’s heard it in church, but she shakes her head. “Really?” I stonewalled my own torrent of disappointment with standardized religion because I wasn’t in the mood for the soapbox.
I’m not a spoon feeder or an opportunist. I’m not trying to sell religion or peddle salvation. God doesn’t forget, so I can wait until she starts to hear Him. Then I can grab her hand at the “knowing” that dawns while I tell her it’s Him.
“God made Adam and Eve, the very first people, and they spent their time the way they were designed to spend it. They created, they loved each other, and they loved God.
“One day they were given a choice. They could know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, or they could stay the way they were. They knew that knowing took disobeying, but they didn’t know the price of disobedience. They thought, with everything inside of them, that they could be trusted with ‘right and wrong’.”
I wanted her to get this part, so I repeated it. “They thought that if they knew the difference between right and wrong, they would always choose right.”
“Isn’t it interesting that their faith in their ability to choose the right thing was carried in the bag of disobedience?”
“What?” She laughed at me because she knows that I speak in metaphors.
“They really wanted a chance to make their own choices about good and evil, but they had to choose the wrong answer to get that ability.”
She’s getting it.
“That’s called ‘irony’.” I raised by eyebrows up and down, silent-movie-style, when I said ‘irony’.
“The problem is, people can know right from wrong, but still choose wrong.” I wrapped my arms around my stomach for dramatic flair. “That’s the most gut wrenching part of being a human being: knowing right from wrong and being completely unable to get it right every time.
“So, God created these rules for people to follow that would help them avoid that horrible feeling. Remember, all He wants is for us to have a relationship with Him?” She nodded. “So, He made a way for us to not be blocked by that feeling.
“Here’s the thing, though. Breaking the rules required a death and even the death had strict rules about it. People started paying more attention to the rules, …getting them right, and forgot about having a relationship with God. They felt good about themselves for being decent rule followers, but knew nothing about their Creator or why those rules were put there in the first place.
“Then, God sent Jesus to satisfy the rules, the “Law”, that He made. Jesus was the only one who could pay the price of death that would work for everyone. He sacrificed Himself because He wanted us to not have to worry about always choosing the right answer. He knew we couldn’t and wanted to save us from always feeling like that. Jesus made it to where there was nothing in between us and God.”
That should be the end of the story. Technically it is. But, she’s my baby girl and she just returned from a summer visit to see family that has a bad habit of being overly critical with an occasional religious bend. She was feeling like a failure. I needed her to know why people get weird and unnatural when they talk about God and why they uphold various versions of the openly disputed and infuriatingly inconsistent rules. When you’re a child at the mercy of people trying to prove their religious worth, it can feel like walls crushing in around you and can give you church-minted anxiety.
“The thing that kills me is when people use their behavior to refuse the validity of what Jesus did. They think that following a set of rules is proof of their love for God, but they’re still focusing on the rules. It would be like if you had the best behavior, but never hugged me. Or if you were so formal with me that I never got to see how goofy you can be. I would literally want you to misbehave so that I could see something real. It’s like the difference between a perfect robot and a human. The flaws are how you can tell real from fake.
“It’s like that with God. He loves you exactly the way you are, not matter what. He used Jesus to scoot everything out of the way so that nothing would ever keep you from Him ever again.”
I get intense when I talk about this stuff. It’s the seat of my passion and I can’t help it.
“I get it.” She’s smiling and I know she’s not just trying to shut me up.
“Really? You mean you can feel it inside you?” That’s the best way I can explain it. You feel something come alive inside you and you know that it’s right.
“Yes!” I think she’s surprised that I know what she’s feeling.
“That’s what happens when you hear the Truth.” I’m beaming because I’m watching Him talk to her right in front of me. This is the dawning of the knowing and I’m grabbing her hand. She’s beaming because she can hear Him.
After a moment of us grinning at what just happened, she ask, “Why don’t they talk like this at church?”
Ugh. “What did you learn at church?”
“Nothing.” And like a dagger with a twist, “We just play games.”
I don’t understand the lack of passion or the preoccupation with making church a “super-fun” agenda of instilling a balance of guilt and hidden-conditioned acceptance. We have to take on the responsibility of teaching our kids how to recognize the voice of the Spirit in their everyday lives. It’s not a Sunday thing. That’s primarily a social outlet to find like-minded people. If you don’t have your own relationship with the Truth, then how do you know when you’re being entertained with a lie?