“No, please, don’t touch it, Ro! It’s my picture–I drew it!!”
This is what my 4-year-old son Winston recently said to his sister Ro(semary). But this is actually what it sounded like:
“No, pweez don touch it, Wo! It’s my pikshow–I dwoo it!!”
He had been drawing with his crayons at the kitchen counter at breakfast time, and his older sister Ro(semary) had passed by and stopped to “help” him.
To her credit, Rosemary issued herself an immediate “cease-and-desist” and left her brother alone to get her breakfast.
Even at age four Winston understood–and successfully appealed to–a very important concept found–assumed really–in Christian Scripture:
We have authority over something if we are the author of something. That is, we only have “say so” if we “made it so.” (This is the reason that God in Genesis 1 goes about naming a thing after He’s made it: e.g., “and God called [i.e., named] the ground ‘land.'”)
This principle is assumed throughout Scripture not only with respect to God’s original handiwork in creation (e.g., “The sea is his, for he made it” – Psalm 95) but also with respect to his handiwork in redemption–or what is sometimes called his work of new creation (“It is he who made us [Israelites], and [therefore] we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” – Psalm 100).
Now, even at age 11 Rosemary is quite the artist. She probably had definite opinions about Winston’s artwork, as well as some very helpful suggestions for how it could have been improved.
But, ultimately, none of that mattered.
Could Winston have been more receptive, more docile, to his big sister’s assistance? Of course.
But Winston and Winston alone gets to decide what happens to his artistic creation. He and he alone gets to write the rules for how others must treat it (recall the respectful yet unmistakable imperative which he felt every right to direct at his big sister: “No, please, don’t touch it, Ro!”). His artwork could become a gift for dad, to be gloriously displayed in dad’s office wall (and eventually end up in the “Winston folder”), OR it could end up as a paper airplane that, when its term of service is complete, goes into the trash.
“So God created humanity in his own image;
in the image of God he created him–
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1
“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” – Proverbs 14
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse humans, who have been made in God’s likeness.” – James 3
Crouching down next to Winston’s bed that night, I asked, “Winston, why couldn’t Rosemary take your drawing and do what she wanted with it?”
“Because it was mine.”
“That’s right. It was yours. Why was it yours?”
“Ummm… because I made it.”
“Wow. And does that mean that you get to tell her what she could (and couldn’t) do with it?”
He nodded approvingly (his thumb was now in his mouth).
“Winston, who made you? In fact, who made me and Mom and Rosemary and Lydia and Julianne and you?”
“God.” (The sound that came out was more like “Gawww” because of the thumb.)
“Right. Is there anyone God didn’t make?”
He shook his head.
“That’s right. He make every kind of person–boys and girls, babies and grandparents, people of every skin color, hair color, and eye color, people with lots of money and only a little money, people who are smart and not as smart, people who are strong and people who aren’t so strong.”
He nodded in approval.
“So who gets to decide how much people are worth and how they should be treated?”
He smiled, because the question was too easy: “Gawww.”
“Do you remember this morning how you got upset when Rosemary tried to do what she wanted with your drawing?” As he nodded, I proceeded, “What do you think God does when he sees me or you (or anyone else) doing whatever we want with the people that He made–you know, maybe saying mean words or doing mean things to others?”
For this he had to remove his thumb. “He gets upset. Very upset.”
“But is it fair for God to get very upset?” I asked.
He nodded and explained: “Yeah, God made people, and He thinks people are special.”
“Ok. But let’s say that God didn’t get that upset. In fact, let’s say that He didn’t get angry at all when, say, one person killed another person. What would that say about how much He cared about what He made?”
He reflected for a moment–his eyebrows knitted together. This, it seems, was inconceivable to him. “But, Dad, He does get upset, because He does care. A lot, Dad.”
“Ok, now let’s pretend (just for a moment) that God wasn’t real. He was just pretend. How would we know how to treat other people? How would we know how special they are (or aren’t)?”
He thought about it for a few seconds, smiled, and shrugged an enormous and prolonged shrug. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either, buddy. I haven’t figured that one out yet. I’m not sure there’s an answer to that…. Now, Winston, who shows us the right way to treat other people?”
“Jesus! When he was on earth, he really, really loved people–all kinds!”
“But if Jesus loved everyone, why did he die on a cross?”
He smiled. “Dad, because he said to his Dad, ‘I’ll die instead.'”
“Instead? Instead of whom?”
With an incredulous look, he said: “Lots of people. You, me, Mom, Lydia, Ro, Julianne… Lot’s of people.”
“Why did he have to do that?”
“Because we’ve been mean to other people and didn’t treat them like God told us to.”
The failure of secular modernity to provide an adequate philosophical warrant for “human rights” (as they’ve come to be called) is perhaps most famously explained by the Scottish moral and political philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre.
It is crucial that we teach our children about the incredible worth of humanity. But it’s no less crucial to teach them about the unspeakable unworthiness of humanity. We’ll talk about one easy way to do that in the next post.