Thursday, October 20, 2011

Matchbox Car Theology

My 5 year old nephew asked how people got to Heaven. My sister (his mom) said, “You remember. We put a matchbox car in their coffin, and God drives them up to Heaven.”

I saw a problem with this idea.  What if people didn't know to put the Matchbox car in the coffin?  I hastened to add, “But if there is no Matchbox car, God can get them to Heaven anyway.”

I'm his godparent.  Should I have said more?  Should I have talked about Jesus as the Matchbox car?  Even though I take my godparenting duties seriously, I don’t want to be the crazy adult whom my nephew avoids because my sole focus is on “boring churchy stuff,” as I termed it when young.

Part of me wondered if he'd understand the metaphor, although I suspect that children have less trouble understanding symbol and metaphor than grown ups do.  Part of me worried that I couldn't really make the metaphor work.  Part of me worried that I'd teach him theology which I don't necessarily believe.

In the few weeks since we had that conversation, I've been thinking about the issue of metaphor.  I've wondered about what we take literally and what might have started as metaphor.

Let me say it more plainly.  I know that many people think we don't get to Heaven without the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Our sins aren't forgiven without that sacrifice.  We may have gotten that message wrong.

If you look at the agenda of the Gospel writers, some scholars suggest that a different picture emerges.  As Christianity evolved from being an expression of Judaism to a separate religion, some Gospel writers used elements of the Jesus story to subvert the authority of Jewish priests.  The idea of Jesus as a blood sacrifice means that people no longer needed to participate in the Jewish rituals of animal slaughter that brought/bought forgiveness.  But did those Gospel writers mean for us to take that seriously or were they talking metaphorically or were they just trying to move people away from the influence of Jewish priests?

Many books have been written on this subject and great rifts have been created as believers disagree.  I can't pretend to do justice to those ideas in a simple blog post.  But long-time readers of this blog know that I believe that Jesus was crucified because he posed a threat to the government.  Crucifixion was a capital punishment reserved for enemies of the state.  If the Roman empire hadn't felt threatened, Jesus would have been stoned or beheaded.

Needless to say, I didn't want to go into all of this with my nephew, so I didn't pursue the idea of Jesus as Matchbox car.  But I have been thinking about translating theology into terms that children could understand.  I have thought about symbols and metaphors that make sense to children.

A Matchbox car theology.  A Barbie doll theology.  A blankie theology.  God as Power Ranger or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.  Hmm.  I see problems, but also possibilities!

No comments: