I had the opportunity tonight to sit next to a girl of about five years old while she read a book about Christ’s death and resurrection. She was so engrossed in the page depicting a cartoon Jesus hanging mournfully from a boxy cross. Mary, John, and Mary Magdalene wept in the background while a Roman soldier knelt in the foreground.
“Why are they so sad?”
That was her first question. She pointed at Jesus’ mother, tracing the tears down the paper woman’s face. “They are sad because Jesus” – I pointed at the cross – “is dying on the cross. She’s his mommy and they are his friends.”
“Why did he have to die?”
That was the question she kept coming back to. “He died,” I told her, “to save your life. Isn’t that cool?” She repeated the question, her eyes begging me to give her a real answer as to why something so wretched should happen to God’s Son. Now came my challenge: How do I witness to a five-year-old? All of my wonderful theological training would just confuse her. The truth, that Jesus loves her, really doesn’t answer her question without at least a little explanation behind it. At a loss, I decided the best thing to do was to give her a bigger picture. “Turn the page.” She did so, revealing a bright picture where Jesus stood outside of the tomb, rays of light emanating across the page to a stunned Mary. No one stood crying in this picture. The very Earth seemed to be smiling. “You see,” I explained, pointing to Jesus, “He didn’t just die. He came back to life. He did that so that you can come back to life too someday.”
“Jesus died and came back to life to save our lives and we can live with him?”
“That’s right.” I smiled at her knowledge. I wasn’t the first person to tell her this, so she already knew that eternal life meant a life with Jesus our savior and Lord. The smile of understanding lit up her face for a brief, beautiful second. Then she flipped the book back to the page where Jesus hung on the cross. It seemed we were still stuck there.
“But why did he have to die?”
“He died because he loves you.” I gave her little belly a poke as I said it. “Sometimes you aren’t a very good listener and you do things that you are not supposed to do. That makes Jesus sad because he loves you and he wants you to listen to him.” I felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere with this tactic. How was I supposed to explain to this little girl that she deserves to suffer the eternal punishment of hell? Christ’s drastic action of love couldn’t really hold weight without that fact. “When we do things that we aren’t supposed to do, the consequence” – I knew she had heard that word before – “is that we have to die and go to a terrible place without Jesus. He didn’t want that so he died instead of us. Jesus never did anything wrong, but he took everything we’ve ever done wrong and he took the consequence. But Jesus beat the consequence. He finished it and he forgives us for when we do bad things.”
I’m still not sure if I got through to her, but I know that she at least mulled it over for a while. It made me realize how difficult it is to sink the message of the Gospel into our stubborn, childlike eyes. God was working on my heart too during that instance. He was telling me the Good News all over again, making me see it from a perspective that I’d forgotten since my childhood. The truth of the Gospel really is as incredibly simple as that: Jesus loves me.