02 October 2005

secondary causes

Laurel had a birthday this past week, so Claire and I went shopping for some presents back on Monday, heading to a nearby department store's jewelry section. Three year olds have rather unusual taste in necklaces, but with a bit of guidance Claire and I settled on a selection that turned out to match one of Laurel's blouses perfectly.

After our shopping trip we got in the car to return home. A voice from the backseat pipes up, "Where are we going now, Daddy?"


"Why are we going home?" We're in the midst of an extended "why" phase of development. Lots of conversations lately, after going on for a while, have ended with either "because God made it that way" or some kind of technical explanation that leaves Claire wanting to the change the topic.

"Well," I reply, "we finished shopping for what we came to shop for, so I thought we'd head home. Besides, it's getting close to your bedtime."

"I don't want to go home," Claire says as we pull out of the parking lot.

Foolishly, I respond, "Where do want to go then?"

"Hmmm," she ponders. "Let's go to Manayunk. I want to stop by Starbucks and get a vanilla milk."

Figures. We were out at the playground down on the canal a year ago and ran out of juice, so I took Claire to the nearby Starbucks where we found some very nice, all natural, organic vanilla milk. Better yet, there's a cute cow cartoon on the juicebox and a collapsible straw.

Ever since then, Claire's been a loyal Starbucks customer.

On the winding drive down the hill towards Manayunk the sky gets darker. Night is nearing, but storm clouds had also been gathering the better part of the afternoon. "Looks like it's going to rain," I note.

"God makes the rain fall," Claire observes from the pulpit of her carseat.

"...on the just and the unjust," I add with a grin.

"What's 'just' mean, Daddy?" Not the question to ask when Daddy's been teaching Plato's Republic for the past week.

"Hmm. Many people have asked that question, Claire, and have given many different answers." I see a quizzical expression in the rearview mirror. "God is just," I continue, "in that he is perfectly good and yet seeks and saves those who trust him."

We talk about justice and trusting God and being part of God's family, all as I park the car. Rain starts to fall while I rummage through my pocket for some change for the meter.

"Mommy has an umbrella in the trunk," Claire suggests. "Can you get it?" I peer in the back window of our station wagon and, sure enough, there's an umbrella. Claire, of course, wants to hold it, leaving me out in the rain. We compromise with me carrying her across the street to Starbucks with her holding the umbrella.

A few minutes later we're sitting on stools at the counter in the front window of the coffee shop, looking out at the falling rain. There's a motorcycle parked in the space directly in front.

Claire sucks down some milk. "Did God make motorcycles?"

For a moment I'm tempted to say, "No, the devil did, but God overcomes evil with good through the miracle of organ donation." I manage, however, to stop myself. "Of course, sweetheart. God makes all things."

My little one evidently remembers these conversations. This morning (minus Laurel who was left at home in bed, sick with a cold) we pulled into a parking space, gathered our things, and headed down the couple of blocks towards church, passing a green Honda motorcycle.

"God makes green motorcycles too," Claire remarks.

"Yes, I see." I ponder a moment. "Claire, who makes cookies?"

Claire immediately rattles off, "Jesus makes cookies. And Jesus is God. So God makes cookies." Nice syllogism.

"Do you remember the cookies you sent Aunt Jane earlier this week?"

"Yes," she says. "We sent them to help make her feel better and show her we love her."

"That's right," I reply. "Now who made those cookies?"

Claire looks at me suspiciously, already recognizing a trick question when she hears it. "God made the cookies," she says finally after a significant pause, then adds quickly, "but Mommy and me made them too." Apparently, she's one step ahead of me.

"That's right," I say. "God makes everything, but God also uses what we call 'secondary causes.'" Hmm. Big word. How do I explain this? I continue, "Who made you, sweetheart?"

"God did."

"And who made Mommy?"

Again, "God did."

"And who made the flour and sugar and eggs and everything that went into the cookies?"

She sees where this is headed. "God did and God helped me and Mommy make the cookies."

"That right. You know what opposites are, right?" I ask.

"Yeah. Open and closed are opposites and light and dark are opposites."

"That's right, Claire. But God's making things and our making things aren't opposites. God makes things by making us and giving us the ability to make things and giving us the stuff to make them with. We call this 'concursus.'"

Okay, so I'm going to have a screwed up kid who uses words like "concursus" and "secondary causality" in 3 year old Sunday School and confuses her teachers. But if something's got a proper name, one might as well use it.

Claire looks ahead down the block for a bit as we near the church. Then she turns to me again. "So Jesus lets Aunt Jane know he loves her when Mommy and me send cookies."

She's got it.