Monday, 18 June 2007

Eschatology with a five-year-old

A recent theological conversation with my five-year-old daughter:

—When will God bring all the dead people back to life?
—God will bring everyone back to life at the end of the world. And we’ll all live again with him.
—Here, or in heaven?
—Here in this world. But he’ll make the whole world brand new.
—And the lion won’t eat the lamb anymore?
—That’s right. In God’s new world, no one will be hurting anyone else. We’ll all be at peace. Do you know what ‘peace’ means?
—It means it’s quiet.
—Yes, it could mean it will be quiet. But it also means that no one will fight anymore, no one will ever get angry or hurt – and there’ll be no more wars. Everyone will be friends. And because of that, there’ll be no more tears in God’s new world.
—No tears ever?
—Not even tears of happiness?
—Oh yeah…. Well, I’m sure we’ll still have tears of happiness. Have you ever had tears of happiness?
—Yes, of course I have.
—Umm…. When you come home from another country.
—Oh, I see. Actually, that makes me think of God’s new world as well. In God’s new world, all of us will be coming home from another country – coming home for the first time. So I guess we’ll have tears of happiness forever.
—But are they real lions?


Chris Tilling said...

Lovely, that really made me chuckle!

Derek Brown said...

Brilliant and touching. You told her that the lions will be real, right?

Maiden said...


scott said...

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Well, why present your eschatology as being definitive? We know that God is going to create a "new heaven and a new earth" that presupposes that this world will "pass away". Also, not everyone will experience this "new heaven and new earth" only those by Faith who have accepted Christ will expereince this "He that hath the Son hath life. He that hath not the Son hath not life." "Without Faith it is impossible to please God." To me adding these facts would have been more appropriate.

One of Freedom said...

Anonymous why would adding those interpretations enhance the already brilliant conversation?

I had a similar conversation with my seven year old yesterday. She was asking me about heaven. Kids have a way of cutting through all the complexity and getting to the heart of what matters. But I am always shocked at how quickly they pick up the Platonic split stuff??? It certainly wasn't from me.

kim fabricius said...

Sounds to me, Ben, like you can now put your copy of Moltmann's Theology of Hope up for auction on e-bay!

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think the "Platonic stuff" isn't really that at all. We are self-aware beings and we know very early on that our bodies change rapidly. We see old pictures of ourselves and say, mentally, at least, "That's not me." So, it is very easy to develop a body-soul dichotomy.
Then, our culture reinforces this. Much of our fiction assumes a body-soul dichotomy, from ghost stories to science fiction and fantasy stories about "switching bodies," etc. I have studied the mythologies of some African and some Native American cultures and found that this kind of body-soul dichotomy is widespread among cultures that never were influenced by Plato.
The Hebrew belief that body and soul were an organic whole appears to have been a rare exception. It also appears to be quite consistent with modern brain discoveries. Psychosomatic holism gives me extra reasons to be enthusiastic about bodily resurrection and a new/renewed heavens and earth--it is the only kind of "afterlife" in which I can believe.
But I don't find it surprising at all that our children quickly absorb views of body-soul dichotomy and that these "fit" more with "what feels right" about their own internal experiences--even at a young age. One has to learn the skepticism about this--and it initially runs counter to one's intuition.

phillip said...

sounds like the kind of fairy tale ending that has allowed Protestantism to exploit the planet to extinction, because hey it's going to end anyway, as a man tyhinketh in his heart so is he.

tortoise said...

Of course they'll be real lions. In fact, they'll be more really real than real lions now are. A real lion today is but a proleptic shadow of an eschatological really real lion. Really.

A. Chapin said...

I'm not sure that anything will be different from now. If we can't make heaven now, I doubt it will be forced upon us...not saying you were saying that (I found the conversation delightful). Just wondering if our own beliefs about a new heaven and a new earth make much sense. Lions are carnivores. What else would they eat? Grass? I doubt it.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Phillip. You said: "sounds like the kind of fairy tale ending that has allowed Protestantism to exploit the planet to extinction, because hey it's going to end anyway."

I agree completely with your concern. But who said anything about the planet ending? I've tried to convince my daughter that "heaven" is just a poetic way of describing God's renewal of this life on this planet.

Of course, it's not always easy to persuade kids of this, since most of the children's bibles and hymns simply identify "redemption" with "going to heaven".

One of my daughter's children's bibles, for example, includes the statement: "God gives a beautiful life in heaven to those who love him." In my view, there are only two things wrong with that statement: "life in heaven" and "to those who love him"!

A. Chapin said...

Maybe your daughter's bible is true if life in heaven is being in love with him (and all eventually come to love him in freedom) - but I doubt that's what they meant - so I share your concern.

One of Freedom said...

Thanks for the clarification Michael. I usually point to platonism because it seems to me that it was this influence that skewed the Christain perspective. But you are quite right at how pervasive the notion of dichotomy is. I wonder why so many intuit this? Perhaps it is the notion of the initial goodness of Creation that helped the Jewish perspective on this, a creation that is originally good is one worth redeeming. Sadly I think not enough Christians believe that creation is originally good and so they cling desperately to their decline narratives and escapist fantasy theologies.

Stephen Hand said...

Wonderful, Ben...


Jonathan Keith said...

Isn't that lovely that your daughter has tears of happiness when you come home? It reminds of that wonderful Powderfinger singer 'My Happiness':

My happiness
Slowly creeping back now you're at home
If it ever starts sinking in
Must be when you pack up and go

Anyhow, I'd agree that God is committed to redeeming this creation at all costs - I think that's the main point of the flood narrative, and a major theme in Genesis. I do wonder though, what God intends to do about entropy!

Andre said...

Hey Ben. I loved this post! "tears of happiness" is a wonderful way of putting things!
Michael, interesting and perceptive comments. I'm not sure if we can entirely do away with some form of body/soul dualism. I don't mean that we need to necessarily accept any of the philosophical dualisms on offer (and it's important to recognise that there are many different kinds of dualisms - something that some biblical scholars forget, I think). More that once, say, we have freed ourselves from the conceptual confusions in which the dominant form of modern dualism trades, we still find ourselves needing to talk of the soul (even if we are not quite sure what it is we are talking about, beyond pointing to some intractable surplus, some register of experience that exceeds our oridnary powers of description.) At any rate, I do think that before we too quickly abandon a body/soul dualism, we need to see precisely why poets like John Donne of G. M. Hopkins used dualistic language (here the brilliant film 'Wit' is, I think, mandatory viewing for those who want to abandon a body/soul dualism).

kim fabricius said...

When I come home after being away, my cat acts grumpy, as if to say, "You didn't ask my permission!" But as Thelma is a small lion, I fully expect her one day to be lying down with mice. And I trust our expert - Ben's daughter - would agree.

Anonymous said...

Great post Ben. Pity about some of the densely boring comments though. Reminds me a little of the biggest commentary I've ever seen ... it was on the book of Philemon. You may like to know that I started a new blog yesterday on fathering:

Brian said...

Regarding the intuitive appeal of mind/body or soul/body dualism, a very helpful book is Drew Leder's "The Absent Body," which examines why this sort of dualism is compelling to people phenomenologically. The body is quite adept at "disappearing" from our focal awareness, into tacit awareness. But Leder also gives a wonderful counter-phenomenology of the lived body. It's definitely worth a read if you are interested in such things.

Ched said...

Very Nice.

byron said...

But which interlocutor is the five year old? We've seen in the past that Ben gets most of his insights from his kids.

Beyond Words said...

I don't think any of the comments are boring. I wonder about entropy, too. Will there be no earthworms and fungi and bacteria? A fixed number of immortal organisms? As much as I try to wrap my mind around new creation, I'm struggling to imagine what kind of physicality it will be.

Anonymous said...

Ben, you said she was only 5 when she asked about 'real lions?' She has real philosophical insight!

C.S.Lewis had the same problem. He once posited that this Psalm must be metaphorical for surely 'when a lion lays down with the lamb, it ceases to BE a lion.'
(Quote just from memory)

Fat said...

For behold he becomes a new lion - the old has passed away.

Anonymous said...

We saw "Dawn Treader" yesterday. Now that's a lion!

Fat said...

For behold he becomes a new lion - the old has passed away.

Derek Brown said...

Brilliant and touching. You told her that the lions will be real, right?

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