My children ask me things that I used to have answers to.
“Where is [deceased person] now?”
“Were Adam and Eve real?”
“Why did Jesus ‘have’ to die?”
“Who is God’s mom?”
“Did God really kill all the firstborn sons in Egypt?” (thanks, Prince of Egypt, for that one… oops)
But the questions didn’t come to me then, when I would have turned toward countless Christian-parent resources and colored pictures of Noah’s Ark and talked about how God is just and hates sin, but loves us.
The questions come now when I have run almost entirely out of printable answers on which we can color inside bold black lines.
I have one answer. Love. Which is very often as anticlimactic as it looks sitting there in dashes on a white screen in the middle of a line of words. It does very little to illuminate the mysteries of death and the afterlife and histories we have only strange, translated records of.
Yet it is my anchor. Which I’ve needed as my paradigm has always been shifting.
As a very little girl with a firm handle on things, I had to learn that not everybody knew Jesus as a friend.
Then as I got a bit older I had to accept that the God of the Old Testament was not too stoked about humanity a good portion of the time. Sometime after that I realized that my best chance at salvation – and God’s favor – lay in the institution of the Church.
Then, when the rules I followed did not in fact keep me out of existential dread and instead solidified a very Angry God on top of my friendly Jesus God, I stopped finding much safety or comfort in the institution and turned to look for God in the wild.
Which led to having to reconcile the Angry God I now knew with what Jesus said about God’s affinity for us and the “see me, see the father” bit and the friend I used to know – and that shift was a doozy which felt like stumbling home after a long straggle through jungles full of mutant mosquitos.
It made me confront the Bible as an idol, the Old Testament stories shared by well meaning Sunday School teachers out of the same fears that Jesus soothed during his lifetime.
And that shift brought me to a trust – at the very least an aspirational trust – in the Goodness of Things. Of God, of Life, of all of Creation.
I rested in those green pastures with still waters until the foundations fell out from under me and my mother, my mentor, my dear and needed friend died a painful, drawn out death that took her from a life she loved and lived well. The grass died and the waters churned and I was no longer sure what was going on, but it didn’t seem good at all.
And that freed me up to experience atheism.
There is a term for all of this. Deconstruction. It’s what a lot of people in my generation are doing with a lot of things, not just their religious training. They are deconstructing education, politics, identity. They are asking “why” about the way things have always been done and figuring out if there are other ways to do them or if they need doing at all.
My faith deconstruction started long before my mom got sick – I was a comfortable heretic for years – but I didn’t even consider not being a Christian, not passing this to my children, not partaking in this tradition until after. Unanswered prayers, yielded hope, unnecessary suffering are all things I’d thought through, all things I had lovely words about and comforting theology, but like the pains of labor you plan for in your birthing classes, once they come you are undone. Your plan may have brought you to the edge of the reality, but the experience is still a leap and fall.
And sometimes you’re holding the hands of your babies as you plummet and float in unfamiliar air. You might wonder if this is safe for them. You might be tempted not to jump at all because of them. You might wish you could just go back and regain the confidence you used to have to pass along to them because it was much simpler then.
This much is clear though the muddy faith you’re trying to decide what to do with: you love them. You worry because you don’t want them to experience the sort of disorientation you have felt. But that’s the thing.
A few months ago I was reading my kids a Bible story and the question came up about God’s love for people who are being selfish and unkind and hurting others. My children didn’t even have to think about it. “Of course God loves them.” They compared God to me and their dad – how we might not always like what they’re doing, but we love them more than anything. It was easy for them to imagine and when the subject of punishment has come up, they are appalled at the idea of God hurting anyone. I don’t think they even know about “eternal conscious torment” or Hell the way I imagined it at their age – fire and torture and loneliness (I mean is it really a wonder why so many of us are like ‘what?’).
I don’t have to worry about my kids being disoriented the ways I’ve been because they were never oriented the same way to begin with. The God I have presented to them – even when I have not been certain there is a God – is one that can only be Love. The only consistency they’ve gotten about spiritual things is that whatever is happening is a Good thing, made of Love, and on their side.
Even in my own life I can see a bright red thread through my journey. I picked up ideas that kept me from experiencing God, but no matter where I went and what I grabbed, the God my mother presented to me has fought to stay: Good, made of Love, on my side. It’s why I was able to deconstruct the other stuff.
So I don’t have many hard answers when my children ask big questions. I have thoughts and hopes and more questions. But I don’t compromise on Love. It’s easy to answer with that, to bring it all home there. Because the way I love them is mountain moving and more than I can hold on my own; it is possibly the closest thing to certainty I have.
When they grow up I am sure they will have to rethink ideas I offered them. I’m sure they will disagree with me. Maybe they’ll even pick up some of the religious stuff I’ve put down. I’m eager to see what they learn and what they’ll teach me and I’m trusting that Love will win their hearts like it does mine, over and over and over again.