As I read the card before me, I envisioned a child struggling with his concept of God and feeling helpless.
My first thought was, “God doesn’t make us do the things we do.” But then I stopped. Why would this child think God arbitrarily manipulates all we do? I know where he worships, and I know this thought did not come from that pulpit. Then I realized where a child might have gotten the idea that humans have no choice in their behavior. If I had the opportunity to answer his question in person, the conversation might sound something like this:
“It seems like God isn’t fair, doesn’t it?” I begin.
Realizing that the idea didn’t sound very acceptable, he looked at me to check my level of displeasure. I tried to appear thoughtful.
“I guess not,” he said.
“Why do you think God made us? Any ideas?” I asked.
He shrugged and looked to the floor. He wouldn’t ask if he’d already figured that out. My query wasn’t a fair one. I asked a different question to refocus our conversation. “Do you know what instinct is?”
“I think so. Animals have instincts, right?”
“Exactly. Animals’ instincts cause birds to fly south for the winter and bears to crawl into a cave and hibernate all winter. Sea turtles know to lay their eggs in the warm sand, and Monarch Butterfly parents fly away before their children are born, but the new butterflies still know to fly to Mexico for winter. Does anyone teach animals what to do?”
“No. They just know what to do.”
“When lions and wolves kill other animals to eat, are they doing anything bad?”
He thought a moment, then said, “No, that’s just how they have to eat.”
“You are right. Animals do what they do by instinct and don’t think about right or wrong. Some people say we’re only animals, just like the animals in the world. If we’re just animals, we can’t help what we do. We would act on our instincts, and nothing is right or wrong if we’re only animals. Have you ever heard that?”
“Well, we are animals instead of vegetables or minerals.”
“Yes, but God made us much more than ordinary animals. He made us like Him and that makes us very special. He wants us to govern the animals and take care of the earth and make the world a better place. That’s a pretty awesome job description, I think.”
He nodded in hesitant agreement.
I shifted in my seat and continued with another part of his question. “You asked why God made us. Do you remember the Bible saying, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only son’?”
“There’s a hint there about why God made us. Do you get it?”
He looked away to his left, tapping his chin with his finger. Then he suddenly repeated, “For God so loved the world!”
“Bingo! You nailed that one! God is love, and He made us so He could love us and see us do what He made for us to do. Next question: Do you remember what God said after He made everything–even Adam and Eve? Did He say they were good or bad?”
“He said it was all good.” He smiled, feeling more confident.
“Good answer. Now, did everything remain good in the Garden of Eden?” I knew he’d know the answer.
“No. Eve and Adam got in trouble.”
“Did God make them do that?” I was leading him to think harder.
“No, Satan did.”
“Could they have said ‘no’ to Satan? Is that what God wanted them to do?”
” Eve could have just said ‘no.’” He repeated, “That’s what God wanted them to do.”
“And what is the opposite of saying, ‘no’?”
“Saying, ‘yes.’” He looked at me, curious about where this was leading.
“That’s right. God wanted them to say ‘no’ to Satan because they had already said ‘yes’ to Him about the tree. Saying ‘no’ to one thing almost always means you are choosing to say ‘yes’ to something else.”
Then I turned to look directly at him and said, “And humans can say yes and no like God wants them to. God lets us choose. Letting people choose is one way God shows us He loves us. God didn’t make us ordinary animals, and He doesn’t want us to be robots. Animals and robots don’t get to pick what they do. A robot is just a machine with a computer and only does what it’s programmed to do. And a robot can’t love his builder. And animals don’t know how to love God. God lets us choose and doesn’t make us do what we do. He wants us to choose to love Him. Does that make better sense to you?”
His head bobbed up and down. But then he squinted a little and asked carefully, “But why does God send people to Hell if they mess up?”
“That’s an important part of your question. Let’s look at what Jesus says about that in Matthew 25:41.” I found the passage. “This is Jesus talking about people who refuse to love and help other people as He wants. ‘Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!’” I pointed to the verse and turned it where he could see it. “Who was hell prepared for?”
He looked where I was pointing and read, “… fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” He looked up at me and said, “Then God doesn’t want to send anyone to hell? Just the devil?”
“Yes. But God lets us choose to love Him or not, remember?” The boy nodded, so I continued. “If we don’t want God on earth, then He lets us choose to stay away from Him. And when Judgment Day comes, those who have trusted and followed God will want to go home with Him. The only place left for those who don’t want God is away from God, where Satan is. And that is hell.”
“Oh. Then God lets us do what we decide, and if we decide we don’t want God, then we get left out of Heaven and end up in Hell?” The boy’s expression told me his epiphany was real.
“Hey, let’s read one more verse, okay?” I handed him the Bible open to 2 Peter 3:9. He read, “…But God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants everyone to change his heart and life.”
He looked at me and smiled.
“What do you think? Did we find the answer to your question?”
“We sure did,” he said.
I raised my hand and we did a high five.
“I feel better,” he said, “but one more thing: Why did God let Satan into the Garden?”
“How could there be a choice if God were the only choice? And how could Adam and Eve prove they chose God if they didn’t get a chance to choose?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
Grinning and nodding, he walked away, turning to wave before he went out the door.
I waved back . . . and sent up a little prayer.