“But Daddy, what about Satan…”
THINKING THIS MORNING of a conversation I had with my eldest when she was only seven years old. This is the one who was crushed when Hillary Clinton had lost the 2008 primaries and then predicted that at least we’d have another shot next time.* But I’m thinking this morning of a conversation from a couple years after that, when I was deep in the thick of pastoring at the small Baptist church in the suburbs. And my young one had developed this knack for throwing out questions sounding much more philosophical than what she had any business asking ;)
On this particular evening, she and I were sitting on the carpet in the downstairs family room, nestled with a sea of blankets on the floor between the couch and the television. We were sitting in near silence but buried in deep theological conversation sparked by something we had been reading together, but I forget what exactly it was.
She had been throwing out questions about as rapidly as I could stitch together honest yet meandering responses. This particular evening she was inquiring about the sovereignty of God, about his love and forgiveness, even about his pure essence and the ability to truly be omnipresent. And she was also asking about Satan. This little girl had a whole bag of questions on Satan.
My little seven-year-old was struggling to understand why, if God was truly all-loving, he didn’t just automatically forgive everyone. She, after all, loved her sister and knew how to forgive even when such forgiveness was not sought after. “And doesn’t God automatically love everyone even more than I do? I just don’t understand…” she confessed. She understood what the Bible taught about Jesus’s death on the cross and the need to trust in him. What she failed to comprehend was God’s inability to find a more all-encompasing way to save everyone. Even stubborn little sisters.
And so, she mused, God also loves Satan, right? If God created Satan and if God loves everyone, then he also has to love Satan. And if God is everywhere all at the same time, then God is also in hell right there alongside of Satan, right?
And what if one day Satan actually repents? Then God would be super happy and forgive him, right? But if God would be really happy to forgive Satan, then why doesn’t he just do it anyway and get it over with?
“But God doesn’t work that way, I guess… And I don’t understand why. I guess I’m just confused…”
As I put her to bed that night, I found myself in an inner state of absolute terror and overwhelming pride. Seriously, her flurry of theological scrutiny gave me the biggest injection of SuperHighDaddyPride ever.
AND THAT SUNDAY, I opened my sermon with the story of our conversation. I held up my daughter’s willingness to ask big bold questions as an example for each of us to imitate. There is no inappropriate question, no subject taboo. “If as Christians, we believe we have nothing to fear, then ruthless questioning can only empower and never disable.”
I reminded our growing faith-community of how easy it is to think we have all the answers and that all it takes is for one small child to show us how rote our thinking really can become. We must never think we have all the answers figured out. We must always be pushing forward with further inquiry. That morning, my little one invited us to think more deeply and to question more fearlessly about the nature of God, about the destiny of Satan, and about the theological assumptions we each carry with us every single day.
WHY I’M REMINDED of my then-seven-year-old’s late night investigation into the supernatural, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s because she just turned twelve this week and I’m just glowing with wonder at the amazing young woman she’s becoming — and at the freethinker she has always effortlessly embodied. Maybe it’s because I am ever so aware of the value of dialogue (and humility and creativity and introspection) in our homes and public spaces. Maybe it’s because I fear a world that seems perpetually driven by condemnation of the question mark.
Well, I’m not quite sure. But maybe this little story stems from a mix of all of those things combined.
And maybe I just wanted to take the opportunity to stoke in each of us the flames of ruthless investigation. Even when it leads us to abandon supernatural presuppositions entirely. Maybe especially then.
IN OTHER NEWS, my now-twelve-year-old marked her birthday by dyeing her hair blue. She’s sending me pics today. And honestly, I’m more than a little nervous about this particular shade of color. I loved the red ombre she’s been sporting for the last couple years. But this? This kinda scares the hell out of me.
Or at least it would have, if such fears were still there…
* And lest the reader assume that my then-five-year-old’s support of Hillary Clinton was simply an imitation of her parents’ loyalties, I must clarify that neither her mother nor myself were pulling for Clinton that year. But even as a Baptist minister, I established an empowering, freethinking, egalitarian home front and wholeheartedly approved of my young one’s feminist spirit. She was, after all, in the habit of regularly reminding me: “It’s about time we have a female president.” Was she really only five???