Driving in the car the other day, my lovely bride happened to ask my seven year old son whether he knew what Easter was. The holiday was fast approaching and it seemed appropriate to have a “good parent” moment and provide the boy with some context.
“It’s the bunny, right?”
Ah. Well, not exactly. She proceeded to inform the boy about the Christian belief that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, died, was buried, and then rose again on Sunday. Upon relating this to me, she observed, “When I was telling him about Easter it occurred to me how crazy and ridiculous this story is.” She had never really thought about it too much.
I think that happens to us when we’re growing up. If you’re steeped in a particular culture, you tend to just accept certain things, no matter their absurdity or strangeness. That’s because they are not strange; they’re familiar, like your mom’s china pattern or the wallpaper in that one room of your grandparents’ house.
So many of our beliefs and traditions just make up the cosmic background of our lives. We do not question them because they are just there.
Later, at the lunch table, we talked about my bride’s attempt at retelling the Easter story, which prompted to me to ask both kids what they knew. Daughter, nine, and son both said they didn’t really get what it was about.
I retold the story. Here’s approximately how it went down:
Me: “Jesus, whom Christians believed to be God, was crucified, which means killed by a particular kind of torture, on a Friday.”
Son: “Jesus…the god-man?”
Daughter: “Well sort of.”
Me: “Christians believe he was fully God and fully man.”
Son: “How could he be God and man?”
Me: “I don’t know. Anyway, when he died on Friday, he went to Hell. Hell is not thought of as a physical place; it’s a spiritual place. It means separated from God.”
Daughter: “Wait, was he split in half?”
Me (flummoxed): “Um…I don’t know.”
Daughter: “If he was God but then was separated from God…what…?”
Son: “Yeah, how could he be God and separ-…”
Me: “I don’t know. Anyway, three days later, on Sunday, he rose from the dead and then appeared to several people over the course of thirty days or so.”
[We digressed into a side conversation about the Hebrew conception of "three days" wherein 72 hours gets cut down to, say, 36 hours.]
Me: “At the end of the thirty days, he was taken up directly to Heaven.”
Daughter: “Where’s Heaven?”
Me: “Well, like I said, just like Hell, Heaven isn’t a physical place. It’s a spiritual place. It means communion with God or being with God.”
Daughter: “Where did his body go?”
Me: “He was taken up directly to Heaven. He didn’t leave a body behind.”
Daughter: “But I thought Heaven wasn’t a physical place.”
Me: “That’s what Christians believe.”
Daughter and Son: [Confused looks remain on their faces.]
At the outset, I’ll grant that I’m giving my children a biased and piecemeal presentation of “the gospel.” However, in seventeen years of being a committed, hard-core, studious Christian, I never thought about the blatantly obvious things that my goofy kids did.
How could Jesus, if he was God, also be separated from God? This doesn’t pass any kind of smell test. At all. Think about it. How awful is it for you to be away from your kids or your parents for a day and a half? Maybe you miss them, but it’s bearable.
That’s how long Jesus was away from his father (and the Holy Spirit, to boot!), who is also himself. In all the descriptions of Hell that I’ve heard, it is supposed to be an awful, horrible state of existence, which awfulness is a result of separation from God. But how terrible could it be if you knew that it was going to end in a day and half anyway? After all, aren’t we already in a state of Hell here on Earth if we do not believe in God? We’re separated from Him, right? Yet I find life quite bearable, enjoyable, even.
Plus, how could Jesus still be Jesus and not Jesus? That is, how could he be God and not God? This is basic logic: You cannot be both A and not A, unless you’re subject to the U.S. Tax Code.
Further, in the modern Christian conception of Hell as a spiritual place, what DID happen to Jesus’ body? Did it dematerialize? Did it travel through the stratosphere, swing around the Moon, and shoot off through the Oort Cloud? And why would it need to do this anyway, if Heaven is a spiritual place? We all leave our bodies behind when we go to Heaven or Hell, why couldn’t Jesus?
Children. They provide such a refreshing perspective, don’t they?
The Emperor, it seems, has no new clothes.