Questions From Riley

[ I’ve decided to make this a new category, as the questions are pretty fascinating, and are sometimes deep enough that I need to spend time myself grappling with them before I give Riley an answer! ]

Recently, out of the blue:

“Did God make Himself?”

I kind of hate to admit it, but that was about the end of it at the time. It was a non sequitur as we weren’t talking of God or anything theological at all, and she didn’t really push it at the time. But I “flagged” it (by sending myself an email on my Blackberry) to follow up on.

I was amazed that a 5 year old would ask this question, but after digging around online, I did find at least one other 5 year old has asked a similar question here. I am not crazy about the answer the poster gives to the child, but it really is a hard one to answer at any level that someone that young will comprehend.

I consulted my Systematic Theology book, but found nothing relevant under the nature of God. Maybe I’m not looking up the right words. So I turned to the Internet and used searches like “did God make Himself” and “Where did God come from.”

I found answers like the following from this page:

The question is tricky because it sneaks in the false assumption that God came from somewhere and then asks where that might be. The answer is that the question does not even make sense. It is like asking, “What does blue smell like?” Blue is not in the category of things that have odor, so the question itself is flawed. In the same way, God is not in the category of things that are created, or come into existence, or are caused. God is uncaused and uncreated – He simply exists.

How do we know this? Well, we know that from nothing, nothing comes. So if there was ever a time when there was absolutely nothing in existence then nothing would have ever come to exist. But things do exist. Therefore, since there could never have been absolutely nothing, something had to have always been existing. That ever-existing thing is what we call God.

I’m not exactly crazy about that answer, though, which is just a variation of the cosmological argument, and in my mind leaves something to be desired.

The simple answer for a 5 year old is that “God has always existed,” and that seems to be the sentiment of most Christian Theologins as well. The following answer from this page is the best answer I found:

We can only partially comprehend the notion of God’s existence. To do so, we must use human concepts to speak of God: “without beginning or end”; “eternal”; “infinite”, etc. The Bible says that He has always existed: ” . . . even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). And, “Your throne is established from of old; Thou art from everlasting” (Psalm 93:2). Quite simply, God has no beginning and no end. So, where did God come from? He didn’t. He always was.
To us, the notion of time is linear. One second follows the next, one minute is after another. We get older, not younger and we cannot repeat the minutes that have passed us by. We have all seen the time lines on charts: early time is on the left and later time is on the right. We see nations, people’s lives, and plans mapped out on straight lines from left to right. We see a beginning and an end. But God is “beyond the chart.” He has no beginning or end. He simply has always been.
Also, physics has shown that time is a property that is the result of the existence of matter. Time exists when matter exists. Time has even been called the fourth dimension. But God is not matter. In fact, God created matter. He created the universe. So, time began when God created the universe. Before that, God was simply existing and time had no meaning (except conceptually), no relation to Him. Therefore, to ask where God came from is to ask a question that cannot really be applied to God in the first place. Because time has no meaning with God in relation to who He is, eternity is also not something that can be absolutely related to God. God is even beyond eternity.
Eternity is a term that we finite creatures use to express the concept of something that has no end — and/or no beginning. Since God has no beginning or end, He has no beginning. This is because He is outside of time.

And I don’t have a problem with that. It is the same feeling I have towards the Trinity (and other deep issues)… There are certain things that we can not understand with our limited human minds. If I could box up God and put him on a shelf and fully understand him, where would I need faith, or where would the dependence come from? I want a God that is bigger than me and my understanding.

Now, try explaining that to a 5 year old!

Questions from a 5 Year Old


We were driving home from Easter Dinner the other night, and Riley started asking questions… Her most common questions these days are “how do they make XYZ” (to which she quickly throws in “don’t say in a factory!” :-/ ) and “why…?” Why to just about anything.

Somewhat out of the blue came the following two questions:

1) Who did Cain and Able marry?

2) Why did God tell Adam and Eve not to eat the apple… And then as the discussion went on, Why did God put the tree there anyway?

Now #1 seems to be a pretty common question — it showed up in Carl Sagan’s book and movie “Contact,” for example, though I am not so sure how many 5 year olds ask it!. I actually had to go out and do some reading about it as I wasn’t sure of the exact answer, and rather than try to make something up, I’d much rather tell Riley that I’m not sure but I will try to find out.

Some folks may say God had already put other people (other in the sense of Adam and Eve not being their parents) outside of the Garden of Eden, though that is certainly not the “conservative” answer. Most would point out that after the Bible mentions Cain and Able, it goes on to mention Adam and Eve also gave birth to Seth (Gen 4:25), and later that he had “other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:3). The order of things may be a bit muddled as the verses are in the order of Adam and Eve giving birth to Cain, then Able, and then Seth, but that is not necessarily their true birth order. No dates or times are mentioned other then Seth being born when Adam was 130. And even if that is the true birth order, the order of Able’s murder at the hand of Cain and then Cain marrying may be such that Seth and the other sons and daughters were born before the murder and subsequent expulsion of Cain from Eden… At any rate, the answer is Cain married (one of) his sisters… Further explanations as to why that was ok back then vs. why it would not be now are mostly centered around the purity of the gene pull then vs. the mutations since, and the problems such a brother/sister marriage and subsequent children would probably yield due to the current gene pool. But that part is beyond the answer I would give to Riley! 🙂

#2 is a bit harder, and there are a lot of angles to look at it… The 1st part — why did God tell them not to eat the apple — is somewhat easier, though framing any answer for a 5 year old is tough… We put it this way: God puts in an order and outlines the consequences of not following it. Then the choice is up to Adam and Eve. You can talk about love and obedience, and you can talk about consequences for disobeying…

But the 2nd part is harder… Why did God put it there to begin with? I don’t really know the answer, and I tried to be honest and tell Riley that. Was it a test? A test God knew they would fail? Was he deliberately setting them up for failure? (Those are my line of questions based on her questions, not ones she actually asked!)

Now that I have had time to think about it, I would answer as follows, though this is not really an answer for a 5 year old. (And this is somewhat off the cuff as I have not done any research into any theological explanations…) But basically, if Adam and Eve were free to do whatever they wanted in the Garden, and there was nothing they could do wrong, there would never be a true option of choice. God wanted us to have free will, so he had to put (at least) one thing in the Garden that gave them a choice of obeying or disobeying Him.

Framing this to be personally relevant to a 5 year old, I think I would put it as follows. As parents, we are trying to raise you so that some day when you are on your own, you will be able to make right choices without us. So as you grow up and mature, we will give you more freedom, and therefore more chances to make decisions without us (i.e. to choose). We hope that everything we have done to date has led you to the place where you will make the right choices. We do know that you won’t be perfect and that you will make some mistakes, but that we will be here for you.

If anyone has any real theological answers from Bible commentaries, etc., please let me know. I’ll try to find some time to look into it further as well.