It’s always hard to choose your first post when creating a blog about which you have so many thoughts. I start with the most significant thing in my life right now: my kids. As I write this, my son Apollo sits quietly, concentrating on his favorite Thomas the Train show that I have playing on a cell phone, propped against a stuffed pink sheep sitting next to him on the futon. His sister Zoe is asleep in the other room, tired after an afternoon of romping outside on a rare snowy day in Portland.
As a parent, I have become acutely aware of the dangers in our world. I am constantly on the lookout for things my kids might eat, run into, fall on, or fall off. I worry that they are too cold, or that they are too hot. I wonder if their teeth will be adversely affected by our city’s oddly non-fluoridated water. As much as possible, I try to keep their world safe, and remove items that I think might harm them.
Even before I was a parent, I felt it odd that God would put so dangerous a thing as a lethal fruit tree in the Garden of Eden, within the reach of humans more naive to the consequences of their actions than my two year olds. Wouldn’t that be like leaving a knife on the floor with toddlers running around? Yet even if the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was only dangerous symbolically, what sort of punishment is proper for a transgression?
Take my eyeglasses. For some reason, eyeglasses are a magnet for toddlers and their fingerprints. If I leave my glasses on the nightstand in the morning, they will likely not be there when I come home. They will probably be under the bed or behind the nightstand, bearing the evidence of meticulous examination by little fingers. Now it’s not that my kids don’t know they shouldn’t play with my glasses. When she sees my glasses on the table, Zoe will point and say “those are Daddy’s glasses” or “Zoe shouldn’t touch Daddy’s glasses.” They know they’re not supposed to play with them, and they know what happens when they do, although they probably don’t understand why there has to be such a noisy fuss about it. The Bible would label their behavior “sin.”
In the Bible, breaking any of God’s rules is sin, and sin is punishable by death. Later we learn that death can mean eternal torment in hell. In the case of Adam and Eve, a puzzling rule about a fruit was broken–a rule with ambiguously described consequences and a deadly result. What is the takeaway message for a parent? How should a parent, using God’s example, punish a child for disobeying rules? Should they be sent to their room without supper? Should their fingers be broken? What is the lesson from the Christian god?
Gone and forgotten
I once asked my dad how he and my mom could ever be happy in heaven, knowing that their only two children were suffering forever in hell. His answer was that just as people eventually get over the deaths of loved ones, they would eventually get over the suffering of their children. This answer made me sad then, and it makes me sadder now that I have children of my own.
My daughter was born with a mild case of plagiocephaly, which in her case was a flattening of a part of her skull due to the way she was positioned in the womb. The remedy for this was a helmet to help reshape her cranial bones, which she had to wear starting from the time she was 4 months old. Usually it was my job to put this helmet on her. She had to wear it almost 24 hours a day, with a short break for bath time. The helmet was heavy for her, and it was itchy and uncomfortable. She didn’t understand why I made her wear it, and it was heartbreaking to see how happy a baby she became when I took it off, only to have me strap it back on again a few short minutes later. I remember one particular night when she didn’t want to wear the helmet, and how she cried when I put it on. After a while she stopped, but my heart ached. I felt so sorry for making her wear it, and it broke my heart to have her look at me sadly, not understanding why I would do this to her. The ache of that moment returns whenever I think about it.
I do not think I can learn to forget my child’s suffering.
Had I remained a Christian, I too would have had to live with the knowledge that my children might not join me as believers in heaven. I too might have had to hope, as my dad will, to one day forget his kids, to forget that he loves them, and to forget that they suffer. I am glad that I do not have to believe this could happen to my children. I am glad that I do not have to worship a god that would require me to do so.