I Don’t Know and Other Heresies

“Dad, did you know Jesus is God?”

“I did know that, honey. Let’s keep reading.”

Last night, as I put my three year old daughter to bed, we read the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death and resurrection in The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. She requested it.

My heart was heavy already from a variety of thoughts weighing on my mind: I have no idea how to consistently discipline Yosi, as I feel like the Anti-Christ any time I spank. At our Bible study last night, through no fault of the other attendees, I felt completely isolated and alone among the believers I know. And then there’s Hell, which has had us all feeling a little heavy these last few days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read the internet again.

As we read the story of Jesus dying for a humanity He loved and loves with terrible and wonderful resolve I felt my heart breaking with the desire to believe this God really is that good, that faith really is as simple as it’s offered, that believing God loves us as much and more than we need Him to is a reality.

With gentle emotion the book drew us closer to the climax, and deposited our heavy hearts at the cross. If life is tough for a three year old to understand, death is all but impossible. She knows that people die, and we have had two pet cats die since she’s been with us, so she gets it on some level, but still. I don’t understand death, or at least what happens afterwards, so how can she?

The story talked about Jesus dying for our sins, and that was when it happened. One word I was not ready for, that I’m not ready for her to be ready for, but a word I knew I couldn’t dodge.


I don’t know, I thought. My heart sank as the seconds ticked by, her pearlescent black irises gazing up at me, preparing to accept as fact whatever came out of my mouth at that moment. And I had nothing. I have no idea what exactly the death of Christ accomplished. I believe we are sinners. I believe our relationship with God is broken. I believe He wants it restored and Jesus coming and living and dying brings that about. But beyond that you’ve got me. I don’t know. I have no idea what role (if any) wrath and substitutionary atonement and justification and eternal consequences play in this. I know what I want to believe, I know what I’m supposed to believe, and I know what I think I believe. But really, I don’t know.

So I decided to tell her that.

“I don’t know exactly, honey. Jesus loved us so much that He died to show us how bad our sin is and how much He loves us anyway. When we do things wrong it hurts God, and He wants us to love Him and love other people. Jesus was willing to die to show us just how much He loves us.”

It might have been a bit choppier than that, with more broken sentances, but that was what I aimed for.

We moved on, and as I read her the words on the page my inner monologue was running I’m supposed to be sealing the deal right now. I’m supposed to be “leading her to Christ” at this moment. She’s asking the type of questions Sunday School teachers have wet dreams about, and yet I’m not giving her the answers her Sunday School teacher would give. OhGodOhGodOhGod. Help me do what’s right.

We moved on and talked about the Resurrection and how happy Jesus and His friends were to see each other again and how Jesus went back to heaven to be with God and He wants us to love people like He did while He was alive, like He does now. She laughed with silliness when Mary Magdalene ran excitedly to tell the disciples Jesus was alive.

I refuse to present my daughter with an algebraic equation of how God works, because I haven’t been able to solve for x in that equation myself for years. I want her to know that God loves her, that He loves everyone who ever has been or will be born. I want her to know that God wants a relationship with her, that He wants her to love Him and to love others because she loves Him and He loves her. I want her to live life with gusto because the Spirit that is that Love fills her lungs and makes her laugh till she cries. I want her to know God, regardless of what else she doesn’t, what else we can’t. Isn’t that Christianity?

I turned out her light and tucked her in and kneeled down beside her pillow to sing to her and pray. She asked me some other tough questions, which I will write about another day, and finally I said, “Yosi, I want you to stop thinking about this for now. I want you to fall asleep thinking about how much Jesus and Mommy and Daddy love you. Will you trust me and do that?” Tears blurred my vision as I kissed her forehead.

“Yes, Daddy.” And she closed her eyes.


Linking with Emily today.

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19 Responses to I Don’t Know and Other Heresies

  1. Julie says:

    it is definitely complicated, isn’t it? I still ponder God and how he works in this painful world. It sounds like you did a great job of helping her simplify and understand the basics of what she needs to know. She is loved.

  2. Leslie says:

    She knows a father (and a mother ) who deeply loves her. That is the first step. Many children don’t ever know this, and it messes up their idea of God, sometimes forever. Don’t worry, God is big enough to take care of the “when” and “how” in her life. She is a child. She trusts. That’s what makes them so beautiful. You told her exactly what she needed (and probably wanted) to know. Jesus did it for her, because He loved her. And she believed you, thus Him. That’s plenty for now. That’s more than most of us understand in a lifetime.

  3. brian miller says:

    first, i love the jesus story book bible…and so cool that you are having these conversations…you did a good job….

  4. Joybird says:

    David, I hesitate to comment because, well because I still want to be liked, but here goes. For Yosi, yes, those are great answers. For you, I don’t think that’s all the story of what Christianity is. I understand that you grew up with this, but us loving God and Him us isn’t enough. The break in relationship was insurmountable by us. The perfect sacrifice thing is real and necessary. I don’t understand all the ins and outs either. But I know that a sinless human was the only one to pay the permanent death price of my screw ups. And the God was the only one who could pull off being a sinless human. So He did both. How do I know this? Bottom line for me is faith. Not random hope, but a fixed choice to believe that what the Bible says is true. I know you question the factuality of much in the Bible and I do not. That gives me a different sense of stability. I trust that God is big enough to edit His work, even written through people. I also believe it is a complicated work that often needs to be understood in a historical setting to understand the contemporary relevancy. And I often, especially right now, don’t understand God, and even feel hurt by how I perceive Him to act/not act. But in this time, I do seek scripture that confronts my feelings without denying them, accepting that my (mis)understanding and feelings are smaller and have far less credibility and stability than the Bible. I hope this isn’t too long or off-topic for a beautiful post about your daughter, but these thoughts have been percolating since I read your post “In the Beginning”, and I figure you are a guy who can handle a little disagreement. Hope I’m right. I really enjoy your comments and your blog.

    • Joybird says:

      Since I already wrote a book, I want to add that your goodnight to Yosi and your tears as you loved on her were so tender and I love that you share that.

    • I can absolutely handle a little disagreement, Joybird-lady-whose-real-name-I-don’t-know. If you disagree, I want to know, and the way you’re handling the disagreement – fairly, honestly stating your beliefs in a loving, peaceful manner – is exactly how God would have us disagree. I appreciate your thoughts. They are fully valid arguments and I entirely endorse you believing this way. There is a tendency for those on the “doubting” side to act like those who believe firmly are just naive, and I don’t think that’s true at all. I think we are both earnestly seeking truth. Just please trust me that I love Jesus, and I want to follow Him. And don’t worry, you’re still liked.

  5. I felt my heart breaking with the desire to believe this God really is that good….

    oh i know this david. i know this. and i love, love, love that she fell asleep thinking about love… and that you didn’t give her the equation. because she already believes: i see that in her loving the story of Jesus. you’re doing a good job, friend. a very good job.

  6. Brandee says:

    You have a gift with words. Beautiful writing!

    What you are doing is just right, I think. I grew up in a hellfire and brimstone church where little children had the pee scared out of them and cried out for salvation so they wouldn’t burn in hell. Much better to make it about love: for children to come to God because He loves us and not because He will punish us (not that He won’t, but…).

    Little children’s minds aren’t made to solve riddles that we can’t solve easily, as adults. There is nothing wrong with an explanation of John 3:16. I was taught to never neglect–in a discussion regarding salvation–mention of the blood: that it is through the BLOOD of perfect Christ that we can choose to be washed clean. Also, maybe this will help: reverse ABC for kids (anyone). C=CONFESS that you are a sinner. B=BELIEVE that Christ shed His blood and died for you. A=ASK Christ to save you and live in your heart. Once this has been accomplished with sincerity, just continue the education. The Bible stories are so wonderful and–even now–help me fall more and more deeply in love with our Savior.

    You are doing a GREAT job, Dad! Blessings to you and your family.

  7. Bev says:

    it’s ok to say you don’t know. children know when you aren’t sure of what you say. you told her your truth. you said all the right things.
    and love always wins…

  8. Grace VB says:

    I love how you ended this and how deeply Yosi trusts you to close her eyes and say goodnight.

  9. Nancy says:

    Now that both of my kids are (legally) adults, I often wonder whether I did/said the right things to lead them to Christ. It’s taken a whole lot of sleepless nights and tears for me to finally come to the realization that their salvation ultimately isn’t up to me. I am a witness, for good or for bad, sometimes a faithful one and sometimes I get it all so completely wrong. But. You were absolutely right to point her to the love and grace of the Father and the Son. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God loves, He will draw to Himself despite my pathetic efforts. I take great comfort in that. If she’s asking the questions, I’m guessing the Spirit is already at work in her heart. He’s most likely chipping away at your questions as well. Take heart.

  10. Tim M says:

    I came to your site from Rachel Held Evans’ site, and I can tell you that I’ve had a similar conversation with my four year old. I’m in the same boat, though at one point in my life I thought I had all the answers. But that was from my head-knowledge-filled experience of growing up in a indy-fundy baptist church where I believe now I had more guilt-laden convictions than life-seeking ones.

    I want my children to know that knowing and loving God/Jesus is a journey, not a destination; the same as loving their brother or sister or as I love my wife. Yes, there’s a moment where you realize in your head what you’ve been doing already and that you don’t want to or can’t love others the same way, but it doesn’t stop there, get any easier, or become automatic. It’s still a process, still a journey, and will still be hard to do at times.

    And I want to tell them that the times it stops being about love are the times that will be the roughest. These are the times, as a parent, that I become selfish and think about how their behavior is affecting me thus becoming angry. These are times for them that they want to push the other rather than share. These are the times for all of us that we’d rather say something harsh about a friend who wronged us or ignored us or was not aware about something we wanted them to be rather than dig deeper with them. These are the times when we are simply out for ourselves.

    And then I want to show them that the times that are best and glorious and magical are the times we are in it together, for each other, sharing in love. When we literally or metaphorically hold hands; when we help our friends in needs; when we hug a family member who is sad; when we grieve together when one of us has lost; when we celebrate together when one or all of us has gained; when we bring someone else into journey with us.

    Keep on your journey. You are not alone.

  11. Verity3 says:

    Beautiful story. “I want her to know that God wants a relationship with her, that He wants her to love Him and to love others *because* she loves Him and He loves her.” Amen.

    I resonate with your point that it’s a journey, not a destination. I don’t want to make the mistake of getting my daughter to pray a prayer, brushing my hands off and saying, “Well, that job’s done.”

    I hear others expressing doubt about “substitutionary atonement,” and I am curious what it is about this idea by itself that is controversial. Would you explain your thoughts on this?

    • Thanks for reading. Unpacking the concerns about substitutionary atonement would take a LONG conversation, but here are a few of the basic concerns:

      1. It would seem to make eternal punishment for not believing an absolute, foregone conclusion, which some of us question.
      2. It reduces God’s work on our behalf to cold math, and seems to limit God for how He is allowed to forgive. God didn’t want to have to be wrathful to us but just couldn’t help Himself if He couldn’t punish SOMEbody? A direct, equal payment had to be made? I understand it’s not that simple, but this is what it makes it sound like, and that is not a very flattering view of God.
      3. It seems illogical, becaue if Christ’s death was a sufficient payment, and the need for payment was what stood in the way of God’s forgiveness, than are we all forgiven? The sufficient-for-all-efficient-only-for-some argument seems woefully inadequate.
      4. Jesus never talks about it. He tells the woman caught in adultery that he does not condemn her, and to go and sin no more. He says things like this a lot. If legal justification was so important, doesn’t it seem like the Judge would have talked about it while He was here?

      I am not eliminating the possibility of substitutionary atonement, as I would have to tear a lot of pages out of my Bible to be able to do that. But I’m not convinced our understanding of what happened on the cross has told the whole story.

      Does that make sense?

      • Joybird says:

        I’ve never heard of the “The sufficient-for-all-efficient-only-for-some argument”. But my pastor did share something once which really helped me. It would be better if I could tell you the verse, but somewhere in the “chosen/called” NT verses the greek word used is ecclesia (sp?) He taught that the root of this word was civil. All of the citizens (translate humans) had the ability to show up to the public forum and participate in local government (salvation). The ecclesia which is often translated church or congregation were those who showed up. Somehow this clicked for me. Available to all, but those who show up (answer) use it. Just a thought.

  12. Sounds like you are doing a very good job of parenting. Authenticity with your own faith is critical to a child developing their own. Who among us have it all figured out? None (although some may THINK they do. ha). “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer more times than we offer it…

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