A recent letter by a child to God asked, "God, how were you born?"
That same question came up last night with a group of middle school students. I remember grappling with this thought myself; the notion of an ultimate creator being created is a natural one.
We are all born into this world. None of us has ever not been born -- unless you are an extremely unique creature. So far everyone I have met has had a birth date, and there have been witnesses, so no one has been able to claim otherwise in spite of the fact that we don't remember our own moments of personal genesis.
The notion that God has no beginning and also no end is a mind twister. I remember having the concept of eternity explained to me in my early years this way: A dove holds a feather in her beak and is able to fly from one end of the known universe to the other end. In the middle of the universe, there is an iron ball the size of Jupiter. The dove grazes the iron ball with the feather each time it passes. On the day that the iron ball is completely worn down to nothing by the dove's feather, that is the day that eternity has just begun.
That last part usually takes a moment to sink in. Understanding that God has no beginning or end, and is the Alpha and Omega of all things in our own universe, is hard to grasp. It takes a bit of appreciation of mystery, and yet the concept draws us in. Those who do good wish to have an eternity, in order to do the most to better mankind and the universe. The evil genius wants an eternity to destroy what the good people build.
The stories of the ancient gods, who were very human in their frailties, seem to be about their longing to go on epic adventures without the worry of one day dying. In wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiastes says, "He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, in a reply to the letter of the child I mentioned previously, tried to respond for God in his own words and simply said, "But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!" The response is quite charming and full of grace and love to a 6-year-old named Lulu.
Grasping the greatness, or "big-ness" of God is a great undertaking. This is an adventure of the mind and a journey of faith. The box we build to put God into continues to break, even as we learn what God has put in the box for us to see. That is why I love the Scriptures. That is why I love the continued action of faith in the lives of people who express the eternity of God by doing great and wondrous things.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.