In Lesson 2 we examined the problem with the word "God." This time we'll look at the reasons for believing in a creator… simple and compelling reasons. This story is probably a bit complex for very young children, but for the older children it should be fine.
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John knew only that he felt bad, and that he'd like to talk to Reverend Schultz again. He might have talked to his parents, but the person who made him feel this way was his uncle, and he didn't want to start a family fight.
This time he went to the old church in the afternoon and he didn't find Reverend Schultz outside. But he did find a little office and an old woman who offered to find him, and so he waited. Soon enough the old reverend appeared, and as he did, John asked, "May I sweep your steps again?"
The old man said nothing and hobbled to a closet. He pulled out his broom and led John back to the steps; they were barely messy at all, but John still took the broom and started sweeping.
"You're not feeling well," Reverend Schultz said. "Who hurt you?"
"My uncle," John answered, "but he didn't really hurt me."
"I think what you mean is that he didn't hurt your body, is that correct?"
"Yeah, I guess so," John said.
"I'm glad to hear that, but he clearly hurt you on the inside. And I think you should be clear on that too."
"He made you feel small and stupid?"
"How did you know?"
"Oh, I've seen this before. You talked to him about who is God, and he attacked you for it?"
John stopped for a moment. "Yes," he said, a bit louder than he expected, "and now I don't know who is right!"
"Well, who is right is something you'll have to decide, my young friend. I'll give you my thoughts, but you'll have to choose. But remember, you must not let yourself be bullied into what you believe, either by your uncle, by me, or by anyone else."
John nodded again.
"Now, one more question before I tell you my ideas: Did your uncle define God?"
John shook his head, surprised to realize that his uncle really hadn't. "But he did talk about the Church in the old days."
The old man hung his head. "Then I'm sorry to tell you that he took the worst example he knew, and then equated your ideas with it."
John felt oddly lighter now. "Yeah, he did."
"You should know that in logic, we call that a false equivalence, and it's a dirty trick. He was bullying you into his opinion. That doesn't by itself make him wrong, but it does mean that his opinion was more important to him than you were… I'm sorry."
John stood still, taking in what he was just told. It was bad, but it was also true, and so, after a moment he returned to sweeping.
"What you and I have discussed stands on its own, John; what people believed in the old days matters not at all."
John kept sweeping, more comfortably now.
"All right, now I'll tell you why I think it's not just reasonable but clear there was a creator."
"I am convinced there was a creator for two simple and almost irrefutable reasons," he said, "and for some very personal reasons."
John said nothing and waited.
"The simple truth is that nothing we see could have made what we see. Whether we look at this planet or at the much larger universe, nothing we see could have created it… and so, something that does not appear must have made it.
"Now, bear in mind that so far I've said nothing about the nature of this creator."
John was surprised by this last comment, but once he thought about it, he understood and nodded.
"There are reasons to think the creator was a reasonable and benevolent being, but that's too much for us today."
"Then what's the second reason?" John asked.
"It's a question," Reverend Schultz said. "And it's this: Why is there something, rather than nothing?"
John thought he understood, but he wasn't certain.
"If there was no creator," the reverend went on, "how did anything get here? Why is there anything at all?"
"I dunno," John mumbled.
"No one does," Reverend Schultz replied. "Some people embrace that truth and others try to get rid of it, but it stands here all the same. Without a creator, there's no reason for anything to be here, much less a stupendously large universe."
The old man stopped and John sat down on the steps, thinking.
"When people get into trouble is when they feel compelled to add to that. As I see it, we should believe there is or was a creator, but we should be very humble about our opinions past that point."
And then, to John's surprise, the old man stood up.
"I'm old," he said, "and I'm tired. Walk me inside and I'll tell you the last part of this."
John walked with him, silently (it looked like he was having trouble walking). They went not just into the church, but into a sort of apartment area. Reverend Schultz laid down on a couch and sent John back to the office to get Mrs. Banning, who ended up being the old woman who had helped him earlier. She said she'd be there shortly, then John returned to Reverend Schultz.
"Sit down," he said as John came back into the room. John did.
"I haven't much more time for you, my young friend, but I want to tell you my final reasons while I can."
John thought the way he said that last part was strange, and it made him worry, and so he sat stone still.
"I've seen and felt many things in my time," Reverend Schultz said, "and they've convinced me that a good creator and a higher life do exist. I find proof of this in our experiences of wonder and awe, that open us to what is good and right. I find it in the memories of my transcendent experiences, which grow stronger rather than fading. And I know, somehow, deep inside, that a better world exists and that my life's true goal has been to become a soul fit for it.
"I know these things, John, and I hope for you that you can come to know them too. But please remember, no one can earn them for you: No supposedly great leader, no preacher, or whomever; these things have to grow inside of you, in your secret places."
He winced in pain, then smiled. "Go on, now, John," he said, "and thank you for coming to see me today."
Just then the old woman walked in and looked worried. He lifted his hand, asking her to wait.
"Thank you again, John, but go now."
John stood, not quite understanding what was happening, but knowing that the old woman was worried. Reverend Schultz smiled and waved as he walked out.
A few days later, John learned that Reverend Schultz had died the same day he had seen him. A few days after that, he received a card from Mrs. Banning, thanking him for coming to see the reverend that last time. She said it had been important to him.
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