We were driving home from preschool when a tiny voice came from the back of the van. I was focused only on lunch and nap times and what-still-must-be-done. I knew the table at home was cluttered with the remnants of last night’s grade-school project, a diorama built in a shoe box showing the habitat of a komodo dragon. Our younger children were amazed with what their first grade brother had learned and created. Explaining it all again and again had made for a late night and the mess remained. So, with a baby in a car-seat and a 4 year old behind me, I was not thinking about theology when that voice piped up. “Momma,” he began, “did you ever think that maybe everything--like the whole, wide world--was just a big diorama that God made?” This, I had never considered.
He went on, “Like maybe in the springtime, God takes out the snow from winter and adds the flowers and leaves? Or maybe in the fall, he takes out the green and adds the brown? Did you ever think it, Momma?”
As we turned into our neighborhood, I sought to find my words. I tried to picture what my son was explaining and I struggled with the picture of a God who seemed so far away. “Buddy, I never have thought of it that way,” I started.
I could recall so many simple conversations with my children while walking along outdoors. I remembered talking about how God created all of this, all of nature, all of the world. I remembered talking about how imaginative he is to come up with elaborate elephants and gentle giraffes. I remembered describing for them how, with His very own hand, he could color the leaves and petals, and how amazing it all was. But something was missing from what I had taught. And my son was reflecting that back to me. Missing from his interesting observation of the world as diorama was a God who seeks to draw near to his children. Missing from his creation as habitat was the One who loves us best.
Christian Smith in his research on youth and faith found that there was a common belief system which he called moralistic therapeutic deism. This view sees God not as close and affectionate, but distant and uninterested. God wants you to be nice, God wants you to be happy, but mostly he's not around. Our culture is looking for a containable god who can step in now then, but generally stays out of daily life. This is the common image that our culture holds about God, but it does not align with the God that we meet in scripture.
Throughout scripture we see a God who covenants with the people he loves and persists with these rebellious people despite their behavior. As the New Testament begins, we see him coming to earth to be our Immanuel, our God with us. The book of Matthew ends much like it started with God's promise from Jesus' lips that he is with us, with us to the very end of the age.
God chose to sacrifice himself for the opportunity to be in relationship with us. John 3:16 reminds us of God's love for us saying, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God did not abandon us in our sins, but took the most difficult path to the cross for us to experience reconciliation.
My son watched my face through the rear view mirror as I continued, “But you know what I think? I think that you are right. God does add things to His world, like we added to your brother’s project. But I think there is more to see. I think that God loves us so much, he wants to be right next to you and me so desperately, that if the whole, wide world were his diorama, He would be trying to squish his great-bigness into that tiny box each and every day.” My boy giggled. It was a funny picture.
We drove home in silence, both immersed in the important reminder that we are deeply loved by a God who seeks to come close. All of nature may tell his tale, but there is more to see. The beauty is a gift that falls far second to the grace that is given to those who accept his love.
How grateful I am for a boy who helps his momma remember the truth.