My nearly 4-year-old granddaughter, Saffi, has been thinking some deep thoughts. Here’s a recent bedtime conversation with her mother.
“Mama, why am I special?”
“Because god made you.”
“How did god make me?”
“God made all of us.”
“Where is god?”
“God is everywhere and also inside us.”
“Is god a person?”
“Does god have a nose?”
“I don’t think so, Saffi.”
“Does god have eyes and a mouth?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What does god look like?”
“Mmmm, maybe like a cloud?”
“I don’t think god looks like a cloud, mama. Maybe like the sun and the moon?”
“Maybe, Saffi. Good night, I love you.”
“Good night mama.”
A few days later at the childcare center where Saffi typically spends part of her day, Saffi had this exchange with one of her caregivers.
“God is not a person.”
“What does he look like?”
“He looks like the sun, moon and the stars.”
“What does he do?”
“He looks after all the little people around the world.”
Forgive my grandfatherly pride, but dear Saffi has articulated here universal patterns of human thought. One, the desire for her life to be special, to have meaning; two, curiosity about what god is like; three, associating god with the awe she feels in the presence of the heavenly bodies.
Granted, “god” was mentioned first by Saffi's mother. I imagine this usually is how it is: an adult explains life to a young child by introducing the concept of god. And yes, one can argue “god” is merely a screen upon which we humans project the unanswerable questions. That screen is not universal, in other words, only the questions that prompt some of us to erect it.
Be that as it may, Saffi’s questions (and the caregiver’s too) deserve to be taken seriously. And if they take us to god, then we too find ourselves asking important, life-shaping questions, such as “What does god look like? What does god do?”
For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth answers these questions.
I don’t mean to take us into a theological thicket where we feel compelled to sort out the identity of Jesus vis-à-vis the god, YHWH, whom Jesus called father (“Abba”). If interested in exploring that thicket, I suggest the 20th chapter of If Not Empire, What?, available via the homepage of this website.
I ask only that we wrap our minds around the central claim of the Christian faith—that the universal questions of humanity about the meaning of our lives, the character of god and the way creation works are answered by Jesus of Nazareth because, in the words of a Second Testament text, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). That’s why we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus—because he showed us what YHWH is like, what YHWH does.
In many ways, this turned out to be very good news. Jesus was passionate, but never violent. He spent his days engaged in acts of mercy, “looking after all the little people around the world” (as Saffi put it). For others, Jesus turned out not to be good news. As Jesus’ mother put it, “The hungry he satisfied with good things, but the rich he sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).
Obviously, one so divisive does not magically sweep away all the difficulties we encounter when we ponder the meaning of life, the identity of the Creator, or the way the world works. Difficult questions remain. Still, during this season of Christmas, it’s important to remember what the fuss is all about.