Where is God?

July 13, 2004 | 18 comments
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Some of you are probably tired of retellings of conversations with putatively precocious toddlers that are supposed to elicit some great insight or something. If so, I apologize in advance. But last night my 2.5 year old son stumped me pretty well.

At the close of our bed-time prayer, he asked (parroting back our earliest gospel instruction), “Is prayer how we talk to God?”
“Yes, that’s right” I proudly replied.
“Where is God?”
“In heaven.”
“Where is Heaven? Is it a house?”
“Heaven is, umm, err, far far away…maybe up in the sky somewhere.”
“Can we go there with a helicopter?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Can we see it with binoculors?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Maybe we should try.”

That was the end of the discussion, but I instantly began a internal self-critique of my supposed spiritual guidance. Is it accurate to say heaven is far away? More importantly, it is pragmatically justifiable to tell a child that God is in a place far away? Is it harmless to use inaccurate, but readily accessible metaphors in teaching about God (i.e., he lives up in the clouds with angels)? And just how do you talk about God and Heaven to someone who does not have much of an ability to think about real things he cannot see or touch?

18 Responses to Where is God?

  1. Russell Arben Fox on July 13, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Heaven is located at the second star to the right, straight on until morning.

  2. Greg Call on July 13, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Maybe you’re right, Russell, but I’d hate to set my son up for disillusionment when he realizes I’m taking Peter Pan as my lead. He’ll have a hard enough time taking me seriously as is.

  3. Measure on July 13, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    I’m not sure if this was the intended effect of the column, but I think you just convinced me, when I have children, and they ask where heaven is, to say: We don’t know.

    Or perhaps, “We don’t know because God has chosen not to tell us.”

    I wonder how that would work on a 3 year old…

  4. Kristine on July 13, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    A variation on the theme, Greg: my son, at 4, (guess mine are slower than yours) wanted to know who decided that a red light should mean stop and a green light should mean go. “Probably it was Jesus. I’ll say a prayer and ask him.” Peter prayed, a few moments passed. “I can’t hear him. I wish I had that guy’s phone number.”

    Needless to say, I was trying so hard not to laugh that I failed in my duty to point out that we don’t pray to Jesus.

    I try to stay out of the way of my kids’ theological explorations, Often “I’m not sure, what do you think?” is enough of an answer to their queries. Sometimes, of course, I’ll follow up on something in the next Family Home Evening lesson, or in my hideously didactic bedtime stories. Still, I think it’s useful to let them just see where their questions lead sometimes, instead of always trying to stuff dogma into them.

    No doubt they will rebel against their freewheeling, unorthodox mother by becoming Iron Rod zealots when they grow up–they’ll spend their teen years memorizing _Mormon Doctrine_ to spite me ; )

  5. Kingsley on July 13, 2004 at 7:28 pm

    Heaven is definitely located at the second star to the right, straight on till morning, until you read J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys by Andrew Birkin and learn how the real Peter Pan was drowned, shot, and crushed by a train.

  6. danithew on July 13, 2004 at 7:31 pm

    Heaven is located at the second star to the right, straight on until morning.

    This reminds me of those Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where the father would teach Calvin some kind of major erroneous lesson — and usually earned a cartoon crusty from Mom for it.

    Q.: Dad, what holds up the stars?

    A.: Thumbtacks.

  7. Jim F. on July 13, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    Kristine, I think your approach is not likely to turn your children into memorizers of Mormon Doctrine. We took a similar approach with our children, avoiding theological discussions in favor of scriptural ones or “I don’t know.” One of my children is considerably more conservative than I am in terms of his practice. (He won’t drink cola drinks; I find no reason to have other drinks in the house), but none of them are particularly dogmatic and only one (who is still quite friendly to the Church) is inactive. I think it is a good method, but that’s at least partly self-congratulation.

  8. Kaimi on July 13, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    Greg,

    We’re still tring to answer these questions, and Sullivan is just about seven.

    On the bright side, as they get older, they start to notice the fun stories in the scriptures. Sometimes I wonder if Sullivan and Kace are a little too enthusiatic about Nephi chopping off Laban’s head, Ammon chopping off arms, etc. But it’s a good excuse to sword fight. (Not that they need an excuse).

  9. Kristine on July 13, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Actually, Jim, if memorizing _Mormon Doctrine_ ended up being their preferred form of rebellion, I’m sure I’d be thrilled! I hear teenagers occasionally do worse…

  10. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    Jim F.,

    Nice method! I like the idea of scriptural discussions over theological ones.

  11. Jim F. on July 14, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    Kristine, good point. As an act of rebellion, my oldest went through a Republican phase in high school–that was shortly after he let a couple of the girls on study abroad with us peirce his ear, much to his mother’s horror and my amusement (and envy?). He was clearly in his rebellious stage. I consoled myself with “Well, he could do worse than be a Republican.” Sometimes I had a hard time thinking of what that worse would be, but all I had to do was walk down the high school halls during a class break to be reminded.

  12. Jim F. on July 14, 2004 at 10:49 pm

    Sorry about misspelling “pierce.” My fingers type “Peirce” (as in C.S. Peirce) more often than they type “pierce,” so habit got the best of me.

  13. Kristine on July 15, 2004 at 9:28 am

    Yeah, I’m always writing things like, “I kan’t remember how to spell.” :)

  14. Kingsley on July 15, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    Jim F.: What’s even worse than a student becoming a Republican is a student becoming one of those little screaming Democrats who protests everything on principle and wears intellectual-looking glasses just to be intellectual-looking and is ready to hit you over the head with a bottle if you even slightly, oh ever so slightly, veer from what’s currently orthodox thinking on racism, sexism, homophobia. You know the kind, if a conservative comes to campus just to lecture they force him to bring bodyguards (not an exaggeration) and they fill the hall with hisses and obscenity and try to drown the lecturer out. You know the kind! Like the ones who almost physically assaulted me when I did a little “Who are the Mormons?” presentation at Virginia Tech, thrusting their faces an inch from mine and hatefully hurling all the usual accusations and landing spit on me. Golly!

  15. danithew on July 15, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    Holy camolies Kingsley!!!

    But I believe that every word you are saying is true (holds hand over heart and sighs).

    It’s kind of odd how freedom of speech can get thrown out the window when the opposition is about to approach the lectern / podium / rampeumptum / dais … whatever that kathinger is called.

  16. greenfrog on July 15, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    The more I think about the title question of this thread, the more I like it.

    (Derail coming, but one that takes the question seriously.)

    Mormonism teaches of a God with body, parts and passions. Isn’t at least part of the meaning of having a body this: being located in three dimensional space in one place, but not in another? It seems to me that if God is everywhere, we end up in trinitarianism.

    So “Where is God?” seems like a pretty good question.

  17. Mardell on July 15, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    I am always amazed at the questions that come out of my kids mouths. Some as simple as where is god, and some as complicated as what does an atom of hydorgen weigh. I have spent many hours dissucing physics, chemistry, astromony, geography, religion, etc..
    Right now one of Sullivan’s fasinations is the fact that he is mortal and Heavenly Father is eternal. He loves hypothetical questions and swords. So one of his favorite questions is can you chop Heavenly Father in half like Darth Mal was.
    Mom: No he is eternal
    Sullivan: I want to be eternal
    Mom: why
    Sullivan: because then I would never get chopped in half.
    Mom: Why else.
    Sullivan:(who loves numbers) Then I could count to infinity.

    My point is kids have amazing questions and if you do not know the answer tell them you are not sure. They will understand. Of course they may become fasinated by the subject and continue to ask more questions but that is what kids do. They have to learn some how, right.

  18. Kingsley on July 15, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Good point greenfrog.

    Danithew: Yes, a moment of silence, hands on hearts, is in order. You know what’s funny? The only conservative reaction to Mormonism akin to the one I got at VTU came at Jerry Falwell’s badly named Liberty University in the oh so appropriately named Lynchburg, VA. The little Repubs there were as bad, as hateful, as spiteful, as mean, as the little Dems in Blacksburg, VA. You go far enough in either direction, right or left, and eventually you hit TV Evangelism, that kind of redfaced sweaty screaming spitting my way or the highway you’re going to hell, you bastard, commitment to an orthodox politics.

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