Rowan Williams’ letter to a 6 year old

by Richard on April 25, 2011

From The Telegraph

There’s a charming article in today’s Times by Alex Renton, a non-believer who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school. Her teachers asked her to write the following letter: “To God, How did you get invented?” The Rentons were taken aback: “We had no idea that a state primary affiliated with a church would do quite so much God,” says her father. He could have told Lulu that, in his opinion, there was no God; or he could have pretended that he was a believer. He chose to do neither, instead emailing her letter to the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (ditto) and the Scottish Catholics (a nice but theologically complex answer). For good measure, he also sent it to “the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace” – and this was the response:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like.

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!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lors of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan

Found thanks to Ben Myers, who adds “Now that’s what I call real theology!”.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1

John cooper 04.25.11 at 9:05 am

Genuinly stunning and good

2

Chris H 04.25.11 at 9:09 am

A lovely response from Rowan there.

Does seem an odd thing for a church primary to ask a child to do though.

3

PamBG 04.25.11 at 11:12 am

Great letter. It brought tears to my eyes.

He forgot to tell her about how God hates sinners and how she might end up in hell, though. It could be really dangerous for her to just think that God loves her.

4

Kim 04.25.11 at 1:18 pm

The girl’s father is an unbeliever. I suspect if anything might encourage him to think again about faith, it is just this type of charming, gracious letter. Of course, with PamBG, Rowan might have added “PS: Tell your dad to turn or burn.”

5

doug 04.25.11 at 8:06 pm

I liked the letter as well. In reference to Kim and PamBG there is a time and place for relaying those factual information and this would not be one of them. God deosn’t hate sinner He hates the sin that sinners commit and like Scripture states “There is a sin that leads to death and there is a sin that doesn’t lead to death.” (aka sin leading to death - the lack of Faith in Christ, sin that doesn’t lead to death - the sin Believers in Christ commit with Romans 6:1-2 aside)

6

Bob Gilston 04.25.11 at 9:28 pm

It is interesting that Alex Renton in his article in The Times stated “Deep in my gut, I disliked the fact that others were interfering with the mechanisms of her naturally-emerging conscience. Offering her the consolations and excuses of religion was one thing, but what when they started with the threats? No child in my charge should have to make moral choices based on the fear of a god’s displeasure, or indeed of the fires of hell.”

Is it any wonder that non-believers are turned off God when such threats are indeed made?

7

PamBG 04.25.11 at 11:48 pm

I’m curious what threats you think that +Rowan made, Bob?

8

Bob Gilston 04.26.11 at 12:47 am

Alex Renton believes the threat of god’s (sic) displeasure and the fires of hell were threats his child should not have to make a moral judgement on. I prefer to concentrate on the positive of God’s love and grace when sharing my faith with a non believer not making a threat that unless they are converted they’re destined to go to hell.

If Alex Renton looks upon that as a threat then it is indeed a threat and he’s not prepared to engage with the Christian faith because of it.

9

Bob Gilston 04.26.11 at 12:49 am

I assume Pam you read Alex Renton’s article from which the blog about the letter surfaced?

10

Bob Gilston 04.26.11 at 12:55 am

I’ve realised Pam that the full article isn’t referenced in Richard’s post. You may want to read it here http://www.alexrenton.com/index_files/Page501.htm

11

PamBG 04.26.11 at 1:26 am

Thanks for the link, Bob.

I completely agree that Christianity has nothing to do with threats - hence my ironic comments further up the thread. It’s totally logical to me as an ordained Christian minister that “Love Me or I’ll punish you horrifically for all eternity” is not a proposition that any sensible or sane person would want to take up.

As I have said on other threads, I think this was the god of the powerful, used as a blunt instrument to subjugate the masses whilst the powerful perpetrated all manner of outrageous injustices on the majority.

If God is far, far worse than the best that human beings can do in the way of justice, love and mercy, indeed, why believe at all?

I believe that (S)He is not. However, sadly, many believe that their god is.

12

Richard 04.26.11 at 7:02 am

Thanks for posting that link Bob.

13

malc 04.26.11 at 9:34 pm

I’m not actually expecting anyone to know for definate, but what would the purpose of asking a child to write such a letter…?? I mean, surely the teacher can not have been expecting any of the children to get replies from God, nor for the parents of the children to send a copy of the letter to various representitives of His on Earth… It also, to me at least, seemed like a very strange question for what was supposed to be a pro-Christianity school.

14

Bob Gilston 04.26.11 at 10:22 pm

The girl wrote the letter when she got home from school. We don’t know what it was the teacher asked the children to write about. They may well have only been talking about the existence of God or our relationship with Him. For whatever reason that was what she had in her mind when she sat down to write.
For me, the important thing is how adults deal with such questions when asked by a six year old. I think Archbishop Rowan got it right.

15

doug 04.26.11 at 10:24 pm

Well all, why as a child was I not turned off by what you call “threats” and turned my life over to Christ when I was 5 1/2. However, I believe that the heaven/hell dichotomy can be presented in a loving way. Thank God that I’m sane and sensible.

I’m with Malc on this one, a very strange question from a so-called “pro-Christianity school”.

16

doug 04.26.11 at 10:41 pm

I will say, like I said previously, there is a time and place to relay the heaven/hell. I have said many many times that a person can be correct and wrong at the same time.

However, as ridiculous and improper as we all agree on as it sounds, I know a hell’s angel biker who is a wonderful pastor of over 20 years who came to Christ, when an immature Christian biker friend of his, pushed him to a wall and asked “are you going to accept Christ?” Needless to say the guy doesn’t do any shoving or pushing. We just shouldn’t look at the method alone. The most important thing to know is that God loves us and desires a relationship with Him and doesn’t want us to reject Him for eternal death in hell “…he that has not the Son has not life.” How God reveals His love to us is different with each person but will always be consistent with God’s Word. In fact Scripture has many stories of people who have come to Faith in God from the different personalities of the individual involved. Some it was like pulling teeth others it was a still small voice. God meets us where we are at and the responsibility with the revelation is to choose to accept Faith in Christ or to reject Faith in Christ. There is no middle ground.

17

doug 04.26.11 at 11:09 pm

The fact is our understanding of what “good is” and what “bad is” is flawed from the fall.

18

PamBG 04.26.11 at 11:36 pm

However, I believe that the heaven/hell dichotomy can be presented in a loving way. Thank God that I’m sane and sensible.

Disagree. That’s like John Piper’s opinion that spouse abuse should be tolerated within “certain limits”. Yeah, right.

19

Kim 04.27.11 at 8:26 am

Well all, why as a child was I not turned off by what you call “threats” and turned my life over to Christ when I was 5 1/2.

Thanks for that testimony, Doug. It explains a lot. I am sorry you were subjected to what looks like spiritual child abuse.

20

Bob Gilston 04.27.11 at 8:47 am

“Well all, why as a child was I not turned off by what you call “threats” and turned my life over to Christ when I was 5 1/2. However, I believe that the heaven/hell dichotomy can be presented in a loving way.”

I can’t speak for you personally Doug but I can speak about my grandchildren when they were at that age. I can assure you that they are very intelligent but I do not believe they were capable of fully understanding the concept of the heaven/hell dichotomy. They thought God existed just like they thought Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy existed but I don’t think they could have grasped the significance of a Saviour to them personally. I am not at the moment going to try and explain to them that the consequence of not accepting Christ as their Saviour is they’re going to hell for eternity whether I believe that or not.

21

PamBG 04.27.11 at 1:51 pm

I was taught as a five year old in Sunday School that God hates sin and that I am a sinner.

Anyone with an ounce of intuition, parental experience or basic knowledge of children knows that a 5 year old hears “You are a sinner and God hates you.”

I believe that many people see God’s love in the threat of eternal punishment. Their parents probably treated them as children as fashion accessories, couldn’t be bothered to correct them when they misbehaved and they see any attention - even punishment - as an expression of love.

But apart from the issue of how children see things, no I don’t find God’s love in Doug’s and Earl’s belief in hell. Especially when I’m never certain what ideas of mine are going to offend them so much that they are suspicious that God is going to consign me to hell for them.

Like I said, I’d rather[1] worship a God who gave a damn about people’s welfare instead of one who cares about money and obsessive-compulsive doctrinal ideas that don’t translate into actual consideration or help for other people.

I am willing to go to hell for my belief that God is Love. Real love. The kind that asks us to behave properly and not just about sex.

[1] Comments to the effect of “It doesn’t matter what kind of a God you want to believe in, what matters is how God actually is” can be omitted from this discussion as predictable.

22

Richard 04.27.11 at 2:14 pm

>> “Comments to the effect of “It doesn’t matter what kind of a God you want to believe in, what matters is how God actually is” can be omitted from this discussion as predictable.”

You beat me to that Pam!

23

doug 04.27.11 at 5:56 pm

Kim, I was never subjected to Spiritual child abuse. My Faith in Christ is strong and I take issue for you suggesting as such. I’m sorry that you think that about me. My pastor in a loving way explained the heaven/hell dichotomy. He even cried during the sermon. It was further from any abuse I have ever seen or anyone would see. I’m sorry you were abused by people who believe like I do but presented Christianity in a non-loving way to push you to think that how I accept Christ was “Spiritual abuse” when in fact it wasn’t. My pastor never screemed, yelled or was harsh. So to say that I experienced “Spiritual abuse” is flat wrong in every way. Saying it is okay to sin, that there is no hell, that everyone goes to heaven, etc. is “spiritual abuse” of heresy. “If you deny Me I will deny you before My Father in heaven.” “Without Faith it is impossible to please God.” “Whom He loves He chastens.”, etc., etc.,

Pam “That’s like John Piper’s opinion that spouse abuse should be tolerated within “certain limits”. Yeah, right.” Sorry but John Piper doesn’t advocate any of that. The fact is heaven/hell CAN be presented in a loving way. Just because some people don’t present it that way doesn’t mean we need to overgeneralize or make hasty generalizations for ALL teaching of heaven/hell.

Bob, if you read my posts, I didn’t disagree with you on sharing with the 5 year old. Did you read where I stated “there is a time and place for explainning that”?

Pam, when I accepted Christ I never thought that God hates me. I knew that God hated sin but never did I think that God hated me. God hates the sin but never hates the sinner no matter where they end up.

“The kind that asks us to behave properly and not just about sex.” I have never placed one sin over the other. However, if a person is going to say that something is not sin when in fact it is I’m going to point it out from Scripture no matter what the sin is.

I have also never stated that you are going to hell or not going to hell. So your comment “that they are suspicious that God is going to consign me to hell for them.” is in relation to the reality of what Earl and I have stated.

With regard to how I was treated as a child, I had a wonderful childhood, not treated as accessories, etc., etc..

Bo mention that many 5 year old look at God as some tooth fairy.

24

Paul F. 04.27.11 at 7:49 pm

Why does every discussion at connexions deteriorate like this?

The post was about a wonderful letter Rowan sent to a little girl. In a world — and in many church environments — where adults act like it’s best that children are seen and heard as little as possible, that they should keep quiet while we grown-ups go about our business, here we have the head of the third largest Christian communion demonstrating to a 6-year-old that her thoughts and feelings really do have value, and that they are worth his response. Even if the content of the letter was utter crap (since it was written by Rowan Williams that possibility is excluded by default), the act of writing it is a truly grace-full gesture.

Rowan’s letter evokes wonder. The comments that followed are just adults doing what adults do best.

25

Richard 04.27.11 at 8:36 pm

That’s nicely put Paul. Thank you.

I’m back to rethinking my approach to commenting here…

26

Bob Gilston 04.27.11 at 10:23 pm

“Did you read where I stated “there is a time and place for explainning that”? ”

Doug, I didn’t have any issue with you on that point. My comment was to question whether one should realistically expect a child of that age to logically understand the consequences of not “turning your life over to Jesus” however gently you may explain it. Quite frankly the consequences of going to hell if you don’t “turn your life over to Jesus” sounds very much like a threat to me.

27

Bob Gilston 04.27.11 at 10:38 pm

Paul - you are absolutely right with your comment about Rowan’s letter. However, in Alex Renton’s article from which this news item emanated, he was clearly miffed that his daughter should have been put into this position in the first place. He clearly sees the church as using threats regarding hell to secure people’s acceptance of the Christian faith. I think sections of the Christian Church fail people like Alex Renton because of that approach. Doug keeps saying that there is a time and a place to tell about these factual information (sic). That would be fine if all Christians agreed with him, but they don’t. Maybe we should just ignore his comments, but unfortunately silence could mean tacit agreement.

28

PamBG 04.27.11 at 11:06 pm

It’s probably my fault that the thread deteriorated. But, like Bob, the whole “threatening people that they must love God” thing makes me angry. As well as sad. But mainly angry.

29

Paul F. 04.27.11 at 11:48 pm

I feel the same way, Pam. And I didn’t mean to suggest my hands are clean. I’ve gone on tit-for-tat tangents with people on here before. It’s difficult not to respond when you think what you’re reading is total BS.

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