I like to grill and I would like to think that I have it down to a science. One evening last summer my ten-year old son and I were grilling steaks for dinner. Those who enjoy doing this know that before a proper grill temperature is reached, the charcoal (I still use charcoal because briquettes are hard to come by where I live and they impart a nicer, smokier dimension to the food) spikes to a peak temperature that can be extremely hot, what we call the high temp zone. This temperature is no good for cooking unless you want to make coal from meat. My son, whose only interest in this entire endeavor is to use the water spray for flare-ups was amazed at how the heat was giving his dad a “sunburn” at night, it was that hot!
While waiting for the coal’s heat to reduce, he asked me, if hell was as hot as this. Kids ask the simplest but hardest-to-answer questions. I didn’t want to wave it off with a simple yes but neither did I want to make a theological exposition of it, so I said yes, but, I said don’t worry it is not that easy for a ten-year old to end up in hell …to quell his anxiety. Turns out, this piqued his interest more and asked me a follow-up question, he asked, “why does God do this to people”. Uh-oh I thought, now I would have to choose between the perfect steak and the perfect answer. I never want to dismiss my children especially when they ask questions about our faith so I attempted to answer this while trying to figure out whether I had waited too long to start grilling or if I had hit the right temperature. So while placing the steaks on the grate, I began by telling him that God does not do that to people and instead, people are the ones who separate themselves from God and this separation is what we call sin. There I said, that was simple enough, ahhh now, I thought, I can concentrate on my steaks, just then he asks, “dad, why did God create us if we were going to sin anyway?”
A silent arghhh, then, okay calm down, you can do this. Flipping the steaks and thinking of how to answer the perplexing question of the existence of evil posed by a ten-year old boy, made my warm skin momentarily cold. I mustered enough voice to say, God created us out of love and with this love, he allowed us the freedom to make choices. When we misuse this freedom and choose to do bad, which means to sin, we separate ourselves from God’s love. Whew, did he get it, I wondered? Are my steaks over-done, I wondered, my wife would kill me and we’d all be in hell! Then he says, “oh I know it’s like when I get grounded, and it is like I got myself into that trouble for not obeying and that you are doing this to teach me a lesson.” Okay, okay that was close enough. I said yes, kind-of and silently in my mind I said, great, now I just had to make the distinction between being grounded and living eternity in hell. We were close, very close to having the steaks over-done, maybe next time I will try to braise something instead.