Monday, 25 April 2011

Rowan Williams: a letter to a six-year-old

Speaking of Rowan Williams, I was quite touched by a news story in The Telegraph.

A six-year-old Scottish girl named Lulu wrote a letter to God: “To God, How did you get invented?” Lulu's father, who is not a believer, sent her letter to various church leaders: the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (no reply), and the Scottish Catholics (who sent a theologically complex reply). He also sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent the following letter in reply:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected. Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan
Now that's what I call real theology! Isn't this exactly why we need theological specialists: not to make the faith more complicated and obscure, but to help us grasp how simple it really is?

50 Comments:

Adam Couchman said...

Beautiful!

Paul Tyson said...

Yes, that is very good theology. What is surprising is that a real theologian who can speak deeply to children (and others who perhaps have childlike ears to hear) actually got to bear the shackles of being the top nob in any of our churches!
PS, I'm just loving Rowan's treatment of Narnia. Thanks ben for all this Williams stuff!

Revjean said...

I loved that! Made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like listening to beautiful music! You are right. It is real theology !

Pamela said...

Wonderful reply Archbishop Rowan. Maybe the most important letter you've ever written!

Anonymous said...

I much prefer this beautiful communication which was/is addressed to children of all ages.

www.dabase.org/happytxt.htm

When asked at what age that it should be read aloud to children, the author replied - from the moment of conception!

andrea said...

a loving letter from the Archbishop about a loving God :)

Rod said...

Amen.

Aaron R. said...

Brilliant! The true litmus test for being a good teacher is if you can communicate complex ideas to the unlearned, particularly Sunday School children.

Anonymous said...

Karl Barth had this quote, which I can't remember verbatim, but was something along the lines of "The Summa Theologica is the reason I'm not a Catholic."

Might it not have been a better choice of words to say, perhaps, "only in the resurrection of Jesus" rather than "specially in the life of Jesus"?

I am not trying to be contrarian or get all fussy about semantics--just trying to add to the general din. I'm critical by nature, I think.

in said...

ahem, didn't Mr. Barth sort of write his own Summa but with a lot less clarity,(he must have taken Joyce's advice to heart) bit like Nietzsche and Paul methinks, we all hate the reflection we love. Top marks to Rowan for bothering to reply to a publicity stunt.

Anonymous said...

I sort of wish God hadn't signed off....

An Anxious Anglican said...

Thank you, Ben, for this post, which reinforces for myself why I think it is worth remaining an Anglican as long as the tradition can produce thinkers like Archbishop Rowan.

Grace and peace!
Bill

MP said...

Not bad at all!

I wish he had said, "...From time to time I sent them from hints, and then I even became one of them. That's that Jesus who you probably have heard about!..."

I'm expecting a child, and can't wait to meet God again through my children!

Anonymous said...

This is profound, and manifestly beautiful, altogether. Dr. Rowan Williams is not merely an articulate theologian, but a master of "theological anthropology" as well. He has articulated, in a very direct way, complex existential truths about our encounter with the Diety, and his Son, our Savior, that I, and many of us, I think, have always had in mind. Thank you for this!
DWLindeman

James J. Olson said...

I've closely read both the Summa and Dogmatics. I really rather wish I'd read +Rowan's letter first.

Anonymous said...

Sin, In and of itself, is not a refutation of God's sacrifice, in His Incarnation, through His only Son, "The Son, of Man".

John Hartley said...

A letter like this needs to be taken on two levels. It is couched as a letter to a six-year old. Yet it is also an apologetic to the adults who read over the child's shoulder.

Maybe it is acceptable to say to a six-year-old that, of the hints that God sends about himself, Jesus is the most special? Although even to a six-year-old one could perhaps have drawn a distinction between the prophets and the Son? But for the adults, who are watching to see how doctrine translates, I think we need to take the opportunity to say that Jesus is different in kind from the other hints, and not just different in degree. The incarnation essentially says that Jesus is a lot more than just a hint about what God is really like.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous. Sad stuff.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it is quite easy to bull shit a six year old. I am surprise that even 60 year olds are taken in.

Anonymous said...

I feel badly for those who choose to ridicule this article and the theology it holds. Perhaps some day you too can be "taken in" to the beautiful mysteries that were created for all of us, even you. Christ died for the likes of both the young and old and is only waiting for you to let Him in.

In Christs love,

Lauri Flatley

Anonymous said...

If wrath is a sin, how come Jehovah is allowed to exercise it? Christianity is a religion built on hypocritical paradoxes...

Ante said...

It was quite fun, and moving, to read this letter after having listened to the Narnia lectures just recently.Definite echoes there! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful exemplar of theological graciousness.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps some of the more angry writers who have responded to this post are really envious of this six year old girl. How many of us have ever received such a profound reply, from an adult, who has chosen his own paths and beliefs in this life, and knows how to explain these actualities in such lucid prose? Undoubtedly, when this girl is sixteen, twenty-six, and so on, she will need to inquire if this particular message holds up for her. The dispute over Faith and Belief will never be done in this world, so, I think, instead of anger or envy, what really stands before us is the examination of our inner lives, and, the question of what we believe, and experience, and how we explain all this to ourselves. DWLindeman

Anonymous said...

It's a sweet letter, but nothing more and it's definitely isn't theological to me. Tell the girl why God commanded woman be stoned to death, that'll cheer her you. By the way, I'm for one am neither envious or angry. Like I said, it's a sweet letter and good for him for replying. But it's hardly anymore than just that, a sweet and lovely letter.

Jordan said...

What does the need to correct and "improve" upon the expression of other theologians tell us of human nature? Perhaps the question itself should inspire us to realize that God is a work and simply listen as a child to the reply? There is humility in the answer given simply because he gave one. I sense something wrong when the pursuit of theological correctness is done in anything that even hints of arrogance.

Pamela said...

I agree with Jordan's last two sentences "There is humility in the answer given simply because he gave one. I sense something wrong when the pursuit of theological correctness is done in anything that even hints of arrogance."
Maybe this six year old will file this letter somewhere in her being, and it will resurface later at a time of waking, breathing or flight.
There are times when I despair at being part of the "church" but I will always look to the justice of God. And men like Archbishop Rowan.

Mia said...

He didn't answer Lulu's question though.

Paul Tyson said...

Rowan pointed out that the question was, to a position of faith, wrong headed without denying that ideas about God - some sensible some frighteningly not - are invented by religions. How would you, I presume not from a position of faith, answer the question then Mia?

Anonymous said...

Dear Annonymous, I'm glad you're neither envious nor angry. Tis a "sweet letter" indeed, although it is not thereby a trivial letter, and, I think, there's a lot of theology in it as well. You suggest that Dr. William's letter falls short, since he does not also address issues of theodicy generally, and, why it his that God can appear to be wrathful, spiteful, and even destructive of men and women in the Bible. I think that many Christians would reply that that is what the New Testament is all about. Humankind is not at peace. This is obvious. Rene Girard has suggested that "we are not Christian enough", even after all this time. I agree with Girard, though it makes my head spin, since, like Sisyphus, we must begin rolling the stone up the mountain again, even after 2000 years! For those of us who hope to become more Christian, at least we're not left without some purpose, a call, something we need to do. DWLindeman

Anonymous said...

Again, no one really is a Christian because it is hypocritical and goes against human nature...

Steve Martin said...

All your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake, anonymous.

That death on the cross was for you, too.

That God you don't believe in is really quite a Guy!

Anonymous said...

For someone as busy as Rowan, it amazes me that he invested the time to write such a wonderful piece and post it back. It may take years or decades before the real effects of this letter are made known to us, for every small seed that is planted oneday will turn into a tree of faith. This is what being a christian is all about.

Anonymous said...

Stunning. This is full of theology. God's greatest lesson to us was love- and this was taught through Jesus. The love Romwan shows through writing this. The love Jesus showed the world. Too often we get caught up in the fact that there are so many questions about the faith. Well, of course they're are! If we knew all the answers, would we even discuss it? The sky is blue. Noone argues that, so its never talked about. Yet, we have hundreds of questions about the faith and THIS is why we talk and share. God knew what he was doing.
Great letter...and I hope you all remember to have faith like a child. Seeking, loving, and eager to grow.
-dida

C. Michael Patton said...

I got chills. Love it!

Mary said...

Lovely!

Italia said...

I must say, you’ve got one of the best blogs I’ve seen in a long time. What I wouldn’t give to be able to create a blog that as interesting as this. I guess Ill just have to keep reading yours and hope that one day I can write on a subject with as much knowledge as you’ve got on this one!

Darwin said...

What a LOAD of drivel.

Anonymous said...

Those who are rubbishing this letter should take a look at their own beliefs - you're calling it "drivel" etc just because you don't believe in God? No matter how rational you are you probably believe in some things others don't - that's your right but you should respect others rights as well. Rowan Williams doesn't attack anyone or their different beliefs so you should respect his too and see this as what it is - a very sweet and well thought out letter to a six year old.

I'm an agnostic by the way.

Anonymous said...

It's wrong to lie to children. It really is. No matter how sweet the lie.

Paul Tyson said...

“It's wrong to lie to children. It really is. No matter how sweet the lie.” I agree with this entirely. If you don’t believe in Santa and yet you play this cultural mythology game with your kids, then yes, you are lying to them and this will teach them not to believe you in relation to other things when they find out both that Santa does not exist and that you never believed it yourself. But, dear Anonymous, are you saying that Rowan Williams does not believe in God? If that were true, indeed he would be lying to this child, and that would be heinous. But lying is telling a deliberate falsehood, it is pretending to believe something you know to be false. If you had read anything that Rowan Williams has written about God, I would suggest you would not have ventured to imply such an obviously liable claim as that Williams does not believe in God. But what I take you to be actually implying is that you do not believe in God, so you take it that Williams is telling a falsehood (though he believes it to be true) to this young girl. Now, who is more likely to have thought this matter through on a deeper level – you or Rowan Williams? If you are going to simply proclaim the ‘obvious’ falsehood of the existence of God in a three sentence morally superior manner, as a mere assertion without any justification, then I find it hard to take your comment seriously.

Anonymous said...

As brilliant as it is lovely.

Anonymous said...

This fortunate young girl has asked a very searching question in the way that so many children can. Growing up can ruin us, or at least, make it harder to find access to our most pressing questions in this world. Alvin Plantinga has said that "God Is Not Less Than A Person", which is a rather roundabout way of saying that God's personhood is definitve, and that he is, actually far more than a person compared to the personhood of humans; that is, we are "derived" creatures, so to say, compared to our God, Creator. Her question goes beyond even these issues, of course, toward deeper matters. One thinks of Leibniz, and of Eberhard Jungel, among others. DWLindeman

tungsram said...

I don't think I could criticise the archbishop's reply to the little girl. He packed in a lot in simple words, which is much more difficult than it looks, and he did it in a lovely way. One can nit-pick, and there may be ways to improve it a bit, but the love and concern shining out of it and the simple way Dr Williams said God can be seen in creation and specially in Jesus was brilliant. Thank you, Dr Williams!

Conrad Gaira said...

awwwww i really like this :)

Björn said...

One has to be amazed, not that the child asked the question, because it is my fiorm belief that children know God better than most adults, they ask US the questions in order to sound out what one may not believe in order to be accepted by the adult world. The kingdom of God belongs to them, they loose sight of it in contact with those whose sight has become impaired.
The venerable Rowan is quite close to what Jesus said: become like a child or the kin gdom goes on without you.
Terrific response.. and to those who say it is not an answer to her question I must say: if there was an answer to 'who invented God' then the eye can see itself while watching the world.
And to the best of my knowledge the eye never sees itself.. is it therefore no eye?

Teddy Donobauer, Bible Teacher and retired Chef...

Patrick McManus said...

I once told Stanley Hauerwas that if he really wanted to see if his theology holds up, he should write children's books.

He just laughed. Apparently, he taught Sunday School for a while, but, in his words, wasn't very good with six year olds. Oh well...

I get the impression that Rowan would be a lovely Sunday School teacher, especially if he dressed up like Gandalf! Sunday School would be magical!

Anonymous said...

God was just there all the time, that's his answer? It's a lovely story, but just declaring this by fiat is nothing more than special pleading.

Obviously a six year-old won't see through his fallacy, but I hope her dad will.

Ken Smith said...

It's a wonderfully written letter, and I love the spirit that comes through in it. But I do want to quibble about this sentence: "From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like." Perhaps it's just the one instance of poor phrasing in the letter, but that particular sentence seems to tend toward the idea that Jesus' life was important, special, and even unique - but not the Incarnation of the Living God. I certainly hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury is more orthodox than this one sentence makes him sound - but I guess the reason it stood out to me is that what I've read and heard from him didn't leave me with the conviction that his thought was, in fact, completely or even consistently within the Christian mainstream. But surely he wouldn't be mucking with Chalcedonian Christianity . . . would he?

Stutz said...

Faith in the supernatural is, like many other nice concepts, both simple and mistaken. Truth is almost always both mundane and complex.

Kiwi Orange said...

That's so lovely!

I'm particularly touched by the effort the father went to get an answer for his daughter, particularly as he is a non-believer.

Post a Comment

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO