Jesus is Magic
Bedtime theology with the 4 yo and the 6 yo...
(After reading a story from Matthew 20 about Jesus healing two blind men)
Me: Okay, so the question after the story says: how does Jesus help you?
4 yo: He just helps us! Jesus is magic.
Me: Oh, Jesus is magic? Well, how does he help you?
4 yo: He just controls us.
Me: Hmm, that's interesting. I wonder if Jesus actually controls us?
6 yo: He helps us because he loves us.
That was a whirlwind theological tour in just three comments. They didn't know it, but my children essentially just covered prosperity gospel, predestination and the theology of grace. Little theologians, everywhere.
We laugh at the idea that Jesus is magic (it's a developmentally appropriate view for a preschooler) but it's not funny when some people live this way. The prosperity gospel is a modern belief that God (the magic one) will bless you physically and financially as long as your faith is deep. Big faith, big bucks. It sounds a bit magical, and though Jesus said nothing about my bank account increasing (rather: give it away), this theology is the reason people in poverty send money to televangelists who own private jets. Another insidious and more common trap is thinking if I just do enough, give enough, be good enough, God will bless me. The magic is there for me when I get it right. But that leaves little room for God's goodness, and whose capacity is more vast?
So if Jesus isn't magic, maybe he just controls us? My 4 yo is not the first person to think this. French theologian John Calvin, circa early 1500s, argued that some were predestined (already planned out) to be eternally saved. Double predestination meant that some were destined to be damned forever. God is in control in this model: it doesn't matter what we do, our eternal future is already planned out for us. You do get to spend your life wondering and worrying which one you are though, so that's fun.
Without the theological terms, my 4 yo flirts with the magic of prosperity gospel and the weight of predestination. With a knowing look, my 6 yo shuts it down: Jesus helps us because he loves us. This is the theology of grace. We are given love, peace, wholeness, forgiveness and a place in God's heart, because of God's great love. This is our help.
Fred Rogers famously said to look for the helpers in the midst of any hard or sad time. That's a pretty good summation of how Jesus helps us- through the hands and feet of others. It's not magic, it's not control. It's just the love of God. We can remind our kids (and each other) to look for it, even (especially) in the most difficult places.