The wisdom of children is not to be ignored.
My children had read the book Bridge to Terabithia before we took them to see the movie. I had not read the book, and therefore did not know the ending. As we walked into the theater, one of my kids said, “Oh, I think I’ll cry when X character dies.”
I dropped her hand and gaped at her. I sat through the entire movie on the edge of my sad seat waiting for the demise of the character. I never, ever, ever cry in movies. That one had me bawling like nothing else.
The story is lovely. Jesse and Leslie become friends and build an imaginary land that keeps them from all the turmoil of their every day lives. She teaches him to stop hiding his art and to see the beauty around him. She is one of those characters you remember, because you want to be her.
One Sunday, she attends church with Jesse’s family. The kids ride in the back of a pickup on a bright spring day. Leslie fires questions about God at Jesse and his little sister. She wonders if he believes the stories in the Bible. Jesse admits he doesn’t know. His sister, about 6, is shocked and says, “If you don’t believe, God will damn you to hell.”
It’s a cute line delivered by a cute kid for laughs and transition. But it’s more than that.
Leslie thinks about this for a moment, the wind flying through her hair, sun shining on the gorgeous children, then she says, “God doesn’t go around damning people to hell. He’s too busy making all of this.”
Of course this is simple theology, but it is enough to give us pause.
The youngest child there has the most “adult” response, and we laugh because she sounds like a tiny grownup, reciting her Sunday School line. The resolve in her eyes tells us she believes every word she’s saying. Even though, after the laughter fades, we shift in our seats, feeling the discomfort of a belief founded in fear.
Leslie’s response is polar and just as telling. They’re just kids, but already their lives are complicated by meanness, poverty, upheaval. They are managing the way kids do: by building bridges of friendship and asking each other those Very Scary Questions. They are not afraid to say what they think and to revel in the world around them, even when it is also peopled by very real threaths.
I don’t want to debate the truth of either girls’ statement. But I do think we could learn something from each of them. What if we built those same bridge of community? What if we gave ourselves permission to ask each other the Very Scary Questions?