Child’s Simple Question Has Profound Answer
Father Richard Kunst
Years ago, I was called into then-Bishop Dennis Schnurr’s office at the pastoral center for what has turned out to be a life-changing moment.
It was at that meeting that he told me he was transferring me from pastor of St. Benedict parish in Duluth to pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. After I questioned him, he told me the reason for the decision was he wanted me to have a school (which St. John’s has on its site–now, Stella Maris Academy).
My first feelings were that of fear and trembling. I was worried about the added workload that was involved in having a school, but as soon as my first school year got started, the apprehension melted away. I looked forward to my work at St. John’s School as one of the true joys in my priesthood.
After 12 years, I became the pastor of St. James parish in Duluth & St. Elizabeth. St. James also has a pre-school – grade 6 population of the Stella Maris Academy, and, so, the work continues.
I love my 100-plus kids. Every day I visit them in their classes and try to answer their questions about God and faith. Some of the questions are silly, some are profound, and then there are some that seem silly until you start pondering the answer.
By far, the run-away favorite question asked by my kids (at least 500 times a year) is this: “Was God ever born?” At first glance this seems like a simplistic question, but think again!
The answer to the question of God being born is impossible for us to comprehend. We have finite, puny brains, and our finite brains cannot wrap themselves around the infinite. It is impossible for us to comprehend the mystery of God.
So was God ever born? No, God has always been; God has always existed. In the book of Revelation, Christ says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty” (1:8). Time does not apply to God.
Time is nothing other than the measurement of change. Seconds, minutes, hours, years and centuries are simply different measurements of change. Eternity is timeless, without change. God is eternal. He is outside of time. He is complete perfection. He neither grows nor deteriorates. God never changes. He is the same today, yesterday and forever, so he was never born, and he will never die.
A classic way of explaining eternity that might be easier to grasp is to look at it in much the same way as we see a timeline in a history textbook. We can look at a timeline and see at the exact same moment that in 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America, and in February 2010 Brett Favre led the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl victory. (!) We can see both events at the exact same time, because we are standing, so to speak, outside of the timeline.
This may be the best way to understand how it is that God is eternal. God sees us and the dinosaurs and Pope John Paul X all at the same time, because God is not in time, just like we are not in the timeline in our history textbooks.
Now here is the mind bender when it comes to humans having one foot in time and another in eternity. If there is no time in heaven, because there is no change, if there is no time in heaven, because God is eternal perfection, then to our loved ones who have died and are with God in heaven, we are already with them. Grandma and Grandpa are not sitting around in heaven waiting for us, because there is no time for them to wait in.
There is a term for this: “sempiternity.” This is how Kevin Orlin Johnson explains it in is his book, “Apparitions”: “Although this isn’t a part of the Church’s official teaching—the instant you die, you will probably find not only yourself resurrected in a glorified body but all of your friends, too, who were alive at the time of your death, because you are outside of time already. They may enter Sempiternity after you in time, because they die after you in time, but in Sempiternity there’s no before or after….it’s tough to imagine.”
So how does all of this affect us? We seem to have gone from a simple question of God being born to an all but certain headache if pondered long enough. Unlike God, we were born in time. (God was, too, when the second person of the Trinity was incarnated, but that is a different apologetics column.) Our souls have a beginning, but like God our souls will never end, because they are immortal.
The basic human hope for eternity is to share in God’s eternity, which is the fullness of perfection and the fullness of life. If we were to live for only 70, 80 or even 100 years and nothing more, then sinning and doing wrong should not bother us. But, if Christianity is true (it is), we have to be concerned about our behavior and our sins, because our existence in eternity is completely determined by our existence in time.
The question about whether God was born may have an easy “no” answer, but to try and understand the answer is futile.
So the next time a child asks you the question about God being born, don’t be dismissive. That child is on to something not even Einstein could comprehend or explain. The innocent questions of the children in our Catholic schools and religious education programs often get to the heart of who we are as persons and the nature of our relationship with the divine.
Remember, Christ said we must become like children to enter into the kingdom of God.