So said Ezra, age five. As we were tromping through the old cemetery beside our house, he was asking about the people buried there. “Were these people Christians?”
This little tromp followed closely on the heels of our visit to one of our friends whose wife has just passed away. “Was she a Christian?”
I had explained to Ezra that she was a Christian and so she got to go to heaven, but that her husband, who is aged and, thankfully, left behind for now, is not. That’s why your Papa has asked him to study the Bible…so he can learn how to go where she has gone and so he can be with her again someday.
“Did he say he would study the Bible?”
“Yes, he did. So let’s pray that he listens and wants to obey God, so that he can go to heaven.”
And so came the common line of thinking that you and I have heard countless times. (I’ve just never heard it expressed by a five-year-old.)… “So this is what I don’t understand about God. You know, Mammy, that not all of the people who are not Christians are bad guys. Most of them are just nice people; but they are not going to get to go to heaven. People who don’t get to go to heaven are going to have to burn. So how can God do that to nice people?”
And that just about sums up one of the most pervasive of all theological questions: How can a loving God damn people to eternal torment?
So I talked about this for a brief few minutes there in the cemetery with Ezra. I told him how this earth we walk on is just really a testing place. “God is giving us a chance to choose whether we will obey him—all of what he commands us—or not. He is seeing if we trust Him enough to just obey Him. If we look around us and see this beautiful world—that grassy field over there, the mountain behind it, these huge oak trees and even our own bodies that can run and chase each other—if we see all of that, we should know that Someone made all of it. If we search for Him, we can find Him in His Word and then we can know what He wants us to do. But we have to care enough to study His Word and find His wishes for our lives. If we care enough to do anything to obey Him, He will help us to know how to do it and He will be our Father and take us to live with Him, forever.”
Ezra responded….”I kind of understand all of that, but I think there are some parts of it that I cannot understand because I’m just a kid. I think I will understand it better when I’m a grown-up.”
I did not want to burst His bubble and tell him that there are some parts of it that he will never understand. But I did add that the most important thing to God is that we trust Him enough to just do what He says even if we don’t always understand.
Later in the week we watched that classic old Disney movie together: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. He listened intently to a line taken from the ten commandments and another phrase repeated throughout the movie: “I make sure I’m right, and if I am right, then I go ahead.”
Then Ezra said “Mammy, is Davy Crockett dead now?”
“Yes, he is, Ezra.”
“Well, was he a Christian?…because he acts like a Christian.”
So now, reflecting on the week I just spent with that precious little five-year-old, I’m pretty sure he’s absorbing the truth that the most important thing about living, is dying; and the shape your soul is in when you do.
As I was driving him back to meet his mama today, we had one final theological discussion. It started when he said something to purposely scare me and I quipped “Ezra, you are going to give Mammy a heart attack!”
“Mammy, what’s a heart attack?”
After a little discussion about valves and blood flow, Ezra said. “Do you think I will ever have a heart attack? I’m kind of afraid of a heart attack.”
I tried to reassure him that he is healthy and that, although he will one day die, it will likely be when he’s an old man and that he will probably never have a heart attack, even then.
“But, Ezra, you know every single person has to die one day.”
“Oh, I know that,” he said.
And then I added, “…unless we are still living here when Jesus comes back in the clouds. If he comes soon and if we are still living, then we will never die.”
As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw a look of excitement like I rarely see on that little face. He said. “Do you really mean it?! You mean if we are still alive when He comes back, we will never die?!”
“That’s right. We will just fly up and meet him in the clouds and go on to heaven with him.”
“Oh!…Well then, that’s what I hope happens! I want to still be living when He comes back!”
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20).
Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3).