Creation, for real
Bedtime theology with the 7 yo...
(Randomly coming over to me during the day)
7 yo: Hey mom. My teacher told us that all those ancient gods and goddesses and Jesus and God, he said that none of them were real.
Me: Oh, like when you were studying different creation stories at school?
7 yo: Yeah. He said that they weren't real, not even God and Jesus.
Me: Ah, well, some people think they are real and others just think they are good stories.
7 yo: God and Jesus aren't like science. That's real.
Me: Yes, that's a good point, God and Jesus are not like science.
7 yo: But are God and Jesus real?
Me: They are real to me.
7 yo: Yes, but are they real? Or did someone make them up?
Me: That is a great question, sweetheart. What do you think?
7 yo: I don't know.
Me: Well, they are real to me, but it's not like science where you can prove it. It's faith, you know, like something you can feel with your heart.
7 yo: Hmm. But did someone make them up?
(Got interrupted by the other child.)
Me: (After dealing with other child, and really wanting to talk more) So, these are great questions and even grown ups are still figuring this out. I'm glad you asked. What else do you think or what other questions do you have?
7 yo: Nah, that's all.
I was much older than seven when I learned that the Bible isn't meant to be a history book or a science book, but rather a book of faith. It may have fully hit me in a college course on Old and New Testament (some religion courses were required at my Lutheran undergrad). The professor referred to the creation story as a "creation myth" and my head nearly exploded. It seemed sacrilegious or profane to apply the word "myth" to any part of sacred Scripture. I heard another student say that being in that class "destroyed" his faith.
My child, the pastor's kid, has already learned both at home and in school (public school with an alternative curriculum) that the creation story we find in Genesis is an example of an ancient creation narrative, which occur in nearly every civilization. Along with the Genesis story, my son learned about American Indian creation stories and stories from West Africa and Australia. He loved that unit; it was the best part of Zoom school last fall when COVID isolation was sucking the life out of all of us.
So, can my child learn to love God and Jesus while simultaneously holding in tension that it is not necessary for the Genesis creation story (stories actually, there are two) to be literally and historically true as long as we can find a greater truth there? Gulp. This kind of Christian parenting requires just as much faith as any other kind!
Children are very interested in what's true and real. I've blogged on this before. My seven-year-old is years away from being developmentally ready for abstract thinking (it starts around 12) but I still keep putting the tension before him. God is real and true to me in a way I can't prove, and I don't expect every Scripture story to do that for me. Maybe he'll live into this tension as I continue to do an age that's closer to 7 multiplied by 7.
My faith wasn't destroyed by a (pretty awesome) professor who called the Genesis story a creation myth. Rather, it gave me eyes to see the expanded and complex role of Scripture both in Western civilization and in my heart. If we place our total faith in the historical or scientific accuracy of an ancient text, we will either engage in impossible mental calisthenics to make it fit, or we may grow discouraged. But if we place our faith in God as witnessed in Jesus Christ's life and death and resurrection, it is another thing entirely.
I actually kind of love the creation story, to tell you the truth. The truth is that it illuminates a God who chose to create out of love, and invited humankind into partnership with God each other and into caretaking of the whole created world that God said was good. For real.