People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)
How do they hear it, our children? How did we hear it when we were kids?
My wife is 36 weeks pregnant with our first child. The pamphlets at the doctor’s office are changing, from fun facts about pregnancy to how to keep a human being alive when you take one home from the hospital. This thing is happening.
In some ways I know we’ll be teaching our son about God and faith right away (and far more, I assume, that he’ll be teaching us). But at some point between Goodnight Moon and the 17 Star Wars books we got that I know he’s too young for but I’m probably going to read to him anyway…at some point, we’re going to open a bible. At some point, we’re going to get to tell these stories we’ve heard and lived for all these years to this new life.
How should we tell it?
Because Jesus values not just children, but childlike faith. A wide-eyed, wondering, spongy faith. And a willingness to believe that exists in harmony with a strong, innate desire to ask questions.
I think about this, and I think about where we will start with our son. And having no idea what the right answer to that is, I assume we’ll begin in the beginning.
How does the faith of a child encounter the first words on the first page of our story?
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…
The bible begins with where all of this came from, a question asked by both children and adults in different kinds of ways. We’re prone to come to these verses looking for answers about earth. But they also give us our first piece of information about God: God creates. God is creative.
Often when we speak of God as creator, it’s in the past tense: somewhere between six thousand and six billion years ago, God made all this stuff. But I think it’s important for both children and adults to believe God creates in the present. To believe the world is not finished, and neither is its architect.
The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…
Were you afraid of the dark?
I don’t remember being afraid of the dark so much as afraid of being alone, a fear darkness can magnify. The most vivid nightmares I can remember from childhood dealt with being unable to get to my parents when I was in distress. Apparently these are pretty common: one parenting website lists abandonment as the second-most-common nightmare for children, and by far the most realistic theme in a top five of scary animals, monsters, bugs, and being eaten (which, I suppose, is what scary animals, monsters, and bugs do).
In the eyes of a child, the world in this state is a scary place. Without God, the world lacks shape and light. But…
A wind from God swept over the waters.
In the darkness, God is present. In the darkness, we are not alone. And more than simply being present in darkness:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God creates light.
It’s a foundational idea, this light. A deeper and more philosophical truth than the sun, which in our story isn’t created until day four. For children, perhaps it’s enough to know that God creates light out of darkness. That God is on the side of the light:
And God saw that the light was good, and separated the light from the darkness.
Light is the first thing created, and the first thing called good. Of equal importance: in this story, God does not create darkness.
Darkness is real. But God is not its author.
In this story, God is with us in our darkness. God creates and shines light.
And the light is winning.
The story rolls on, through skies and waters and plants and trees, sun and moon and animals of every kind. And then we come to our part in the story:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”
And this too is a foundational idea: the first thing said about you and me is that we are created in the image of God. This is true about us before anything else is true about us.
It will take more than a lifetime to live into this truth. But what the story has already told us about this God is meaningful for we who are created in his image, as both children and adults.
God creates and is creating, and invites us to be part of this work. To create. To be creative. In the midst of darkness, God creates light. And light – the first and most consistent metaphor in all of scripture – will become our calling too.
Lots of ink has been spilled about the use of “our” in this verse, about what the author(s) of this first story might be trying to tell us. But there are Trinitarian echoes even before this: the first three verses include a God who creates, a wind – the same word in both Greek and Hebrew for Spirit – sweeping over the waters, and creation itself coming through a spoken Word that will one day put on flesh and make God more fully known. In some way, Father, Son, and Spirit are there together in the beginning.
It’s all a bit mysterious, perhaps requiring the faith of a child to understand. But it whispers to us one more foundational truth: God always exists in and through relationships, with himself in some Trinitarian way, and with us. And as children created in God’s image, the same might be true of us as well.
And so this God invites us to be in relationship with him and to live in his image in our relationships with each other. This has always been the way. Our oldest truths, for children of all ages – God made you, God is with you, God is a light in our darkness, God loves you, and you are made in God’s image – seem like a pretty good place to start.