Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Daughter Is Not One To Accept Pat Answers

So as we were driving home from seeing "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (which we enjoyed), Kathryn (12) made the following observations about a song that was playing. My MP3 player had pulled up "The Plagues" from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack. In the song, written by Stephen Schwartz, Moses and Pharaoh are arguing about the release of the Israelites. Following the song, the angel of Death descends upon Egypt.

"It really wasn't Moses or Pharaoh was it Dad?" my daughter announced from the back seat. "It was God.... Even if there were some bad people, lots of innocent people were killed who had no idea what was going on."

"Yep," I responded.

"It would be like if he killed all the firstborn in Salt Lake.... mostly innocent people would die. God was basically killing innocent people to get Pharaoh to do what he wanted."

We drove in silence for a moment.

"Dad.... How is that different from any other bad leader I have learned about in history?"

A few more moments of silence...

"So what do you do with that?" I asked.

"Well," Kathryn said thoughtfully. "It seems to me that either that story isn't accurate.... or God struggles to do the right thing just as much as we do."

I am not sure what my daughter's faith, or lack thereof, will look like one day. One thing I am sure of is that the pre-packaged answers supplied by most religious institutions will not last long under her scrutiny.


Logan said...

One heck of a kid you have there Andrew!

Don said...

I am duly impressed by the cognitive processes and spiritual processes going on in that child's head. She expresses herself very well, and you're right, no pat church answers for her. She's gonna be just fine.

Anonymous said...

Interesting convo - to say the least. How does one argue theology with a young person? I have no clue.

Nonethless, it's impressive because it reveals the mind of someone that does a lot of independent thinking.

Steve H. said...

Ah, my niece is developing good liberal tendencies. She has never met any of those killed but assumes they must be innocent...

Andrew said...

Logan & Don: Thanks!

Society: Yeah, I tread carefully with Kathryn. Rather than giving her answers, I try to give her perspectives. Not that I won't tell her my opinion, but when I do, I try to direct her to some folks who have different views on that subject. I never want her to have the "jolt" that comes from not realizing until later in life that there were other points of view.

Steve, your comment brought to mind a scene from Gandhi:

Government advocate: General Dyer, is it correct that you ordered your troops to fire at the thickest part of the crowd?

Gen. Dyer: [righteous tone] That is so.

Government advocate: One thousand five hundred and sixteen casualties with one thousand six hundred and fifty bullets.

Gen. Dyer: My intention was to inflict a lesson that would have an impact throughout all India.

Indian barrister: General, had you been able to take in the armored car, would you have opened fire with the machine gun?

Gen. Dyer: I think, probably, yes.

Lord Hunter: General, did you realize there were children, and women, in the crowd?

Gen. Dyer: I did.

Government advocate: But that was irrelevant to the point you were making?

Gen. Dyer: That is correct!

Government advocate: Could I ask you what provision you made for the wounded?

Gen. Dyer: I was ready to help any who applied.

Government advocate: General, how does a child shot with a 303 Lee-Enfield "apply" for help?

Gen. Dyer: [silence]

Logan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Logan said...

She has never met any of those killed but assumes they must be innocent...

What is meant by 'innocent' in this case? If we're going by the "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" definition that applies to pretty much everybody...nobody is "innocent".

Not that I think that makes a difference-Kathryn picked up one thing, humanity is quick to condemn the actions of human leaders but quite accepting of the same actions from "God"...why is genocide such an evil thing when Hitler does it but when Joshua lays the "curse of destruction" on everyone-young and old-in Jericho (supposedly at "God's command"-HA) suddenly it becomes not only acceptable but righteous?

Now if God were targeting the "guilty" like Bill Clinton targeted the economy (like a 'laser-beam'), OK, I can see an argument that God killing people might be OK (the other argument basically boils down to 'He's God, he can kill whoever He wants'-not exactly flattering, but more importantly not consistent with a God of Love). But in the case of the plagues the Bible simply says the "firstborn" were all killed. Nothing about guilt or innocence...of assume anything further either way is-well, just that, to assume.

For whatever reason my tendency (admittedly a liberal one) is not to immediately assume that God did the "right" thing by bumping off the first born or that murder becomes one iota more acceptable if "God" kills people instead of people killing people. Actually I'm quite skeptical that the story is literally historically true but that's another matter...

Or maybe I'm just be a little sensitive-you see my dad told me when I was young had we been living in Ancient Egypt it would have been me who got wiped out. I'm not sure exactly why he pointed that salient detail out, but I took away that being the oldest isn't always the easiest, and also that God wasn't the one I had to be worried about. :)

Steve H. said...

Andy: But in this scenario the British ARE the Egyptians (and truth be told I would rather be an Indian under Britain than an Israelite under Egypt)

Logan: Good points. I think when a dictator commits genocide he does so enthusiastically for his own twisted insecurities and beliefs. I believe when God extinguishes life he does as a last resort, as a surgeon who has tried every form of non-evasive treatment, and finally concedes in order to save the patient, he has to remove the tumor.

Andrew said...

Regardless, it is still a matter of one power killing the less powerful to accomplish an objective, whomever that is. Your insinuation was that those being killed weren't innocent... That was General Dyer's view. I am saying that as assuredly as there were innocents in General Dyer's victims, there were innocents in that story. Now the question is, how do we handle the story? It is an option to say it is bad when anyone else kills innocents(pharaoh killing the firstborn of Israel), but good when God kills innocents(killing the firstborn of Egypt)... I just think there are options that are more honoring to God.

Steve H. said...

Andy...I see the point you are trying to make but you err in attempting to place the eternal plans of a Holy God in the same cotext as a colonial ruler.

You say there are "options more honoring of God" but since God did kill the first born of Egypt...he must have been out of options.

Again, you assume innocence. I'll start with me. I am a loving father and husband...and a horrible sinner that a Holy God has every right (and duty) to eliminate. By His grace he has provided a way to obtain innocence through Christ...but without him, I should be one of those first born of Egypt

Andrew said...

"and a horrible sinner that a Holy God has every right (and duty) to eliminate. By His grace he has provided a way to obtain innocence through Christ...but without him, I should be one of those first born of Egypt"

I could see why you come to your conclusions because of how you view your standing with God... I just don't believe that is how we stand with God.

Steve H. said...

I have a rebuttle but first I'd need to know what you see your standing before God as?

Andrew said...

Well, that testimony would take quite a bit to write out, but I will give the reader's digest version.

I do not believe the "man is so sinful God cannot abide his presence" that was typical of the circles we grew up in and that much of reformed theology clings to. I just do not see that thought line being carried out in the Gospels. Certainly Jesus never reacted that way to people, and he is the image of the invisible God. We forget that when Jesus called us to be perfect as the Father is perfect, he was doing that in the context of loving your enemy before a God who causes rain to fall on the good and bad alike. To me, Jesus wanted us to have a graceful perfection that could embrace. Growing up, I kinda got the idea that God was a bit fragile... he couldn't handle our imperfections and needed Jesus to step in front of us. Now I see that God has a graceful and secure perfection that can embrace us and he calls us to do likewise.

Jesus does not stand in front of me to cover my sin, so God can stand my presence. I agree heartily with Richard Rohr who said: "Jesus did not come to change God's mind about humanity, Jesus came to change humanity's mind about God."

curmudgeon said...

"But in this scenario the British ARE the Egyptians (and truth be told I would rather be an Indian under Britain than an Israelite under Egypt)"

Steve, don't you think personal policy based upon a parable without historic merit is dangerous especially when it taints your world view and your capacity for compassion. In this democratic republic we operate on the assumption that everyone is innocent until guilt is shown. For a young developing mind to grasp that concept say a great deal about her potential to develop not only compassion but reason.

Andy, celebrate those qualities in your children and continue to tend to that garden.

Steve H. said...

Andy: There are 2 truths that, like the "thinking like Divinci" book suggests most people have to pick one or the other. There is a paradox here. The Bible is quite clear that the "wages of sin is death" That the Holy place of God can't be entered into with a speck of sin. But the focus on that truth at the expense of the other truth "God so loved the world that he gave" causes serious distortions. (see my latest post on Grace) I think your view is an an embrace of the second truth without allowing that there is another Biblical truth at play as well. I never felt God was fragile...just holy.

Curmudgeon: Don't worry there bud. This is a theological discussion, not a formulation of U.S. domestic legal policy :)

Andrew said...

Thanks Kevin - I can't state the level of gratefulness I feel for Kathryn's direction.

Steve - I think there are more than two truths here. If I were to take your view of scripture, I still believe there is room for truth to supersede truth - mercy triumphs over judgement. Or it can simply be a matter of our traditional interpretations being mistaken if said interpretation denies goodness.

However, I do not take your view of scripture. Rather than seeing the Bible as dictation from the mouth of God, I see it as a library of sources from people who have had experience with God. And people flavor things. Therefore, I do not feel the pressure to get things to fit regardless of what they are saying. There are certain truths I have decided to set as priority. When scripture contradicts those, it must either have a meaning I am unaware of, or it is simply wrong. I do not feel the need to try to work out how God doing something evil can be contorted into something good if I push hard enough or turn my ethics off.

I know the standard rebuttal is that we simply don't truly understand goodness and therefore can't make that judgement; but I reject that notion entirely. If that were so, all of these conversations are rendered completely moot.

God is either completely irrevocably good, doesn't exist, or is arbitrary according to his own dictates - in which case, everyone of us is eventually doomed. My money is on the first one.

curmudgeon said...

"Don't worry there bud. This is a theological discussion, not a formulation of U.S. domestic legal policy :)"

Steve, Exactly and because the discussion is theological and very theoretical I am not sure why you would impose such a nasty view of the world on children. The idea that we are all sinners and must die for the sin is horrible.

It is in the rigid interpretation of those theological arguments that you develop citizens of the world who lack compassion and only seek there view or and the imposition of god's wrath. Thus it will effect U.S. Domestic Legal Policy.

I personally believe compassion develops out of reason not dogma!

Steve H. said...

curmudgeon: No worries mate...I'll have this discussion with my 41 year old brother, not my 12 year old niece.

Andy: I don't know if truth supercedes truth but I do believe they can coexist. We view the Bible source differently and therefore get different conclusions.

Lou the Lawyer said...

Good discussion to all, I'll be pondering this for a while. My guess is that there is no "right" answer other than Andy's daughter is a chip off the old block.

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