Last week I had the opportunity to take a break from work and help out with my home church's Vacation Bible School, a week-long day camp for kids. I was in charge of a romping crew of 5 first-graders and my job was to make sure I didn't step on or lose any throughout the day (neither the VBS director nor the nervous parent of a shy child appreciated my comment, "I'm usually really good about keeping the kids very focused. Last year, I only lost three of them") and to help them pay attention to the different crafts and stories. It is a wonderful ministry and I have found that I learn as much from it as the kids do. Here is my reflection on this year's VBS.
The Mystery of Faith
Perhaps the greatest thing I have learned this week at VBS lies in a greater revelation of the integrity of the Christian gospel. The truths that were taught to me when I was growing up are the same as those I tried to teach to my kids, the only difference being that I used my personal experiences to frame my narratives.
There is no greater or more objective principle than this: God loves you and He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins, and Jesus came back to life so that He could reconnect you to God upon acceptance of His sacrifice. I cannot add or take away clarity or veracity to so simple and elegant a message. The mystery of faith lies in the duplicity of the complexity of this paradox: "Why" this happens is apparent to all of us (even my first graders know: "Because God loves us"), but "Why me" begets the question no theologian, philosopher, mathematician, economist, or mystic can answer: "How much?" At the core of the human element lies our innate imperfection and sinfulness, and a simple glimpse or mere exposure to this core evokes feelings of disgust, horror, and dread. It is not difficult to understand "why" God chose to redeem humanity -- for even we know that human love will cause others to do things which we might regard as sacrificial, strange, noble, or foolish -- but as we begin to understand the depths of our failures we must also begin to question the extent of the love that can redeem us.
I love reading a good book but I would not sacrifice my life, much less a toe on my left foot, for the chance to read a good book, much less for someone else to have the chance to read a good book. How much grater that a Father should send His Son to die in order to reconcile the sins of humanity! Why am I worth it? Why does God love me so much? How much love does God have for me and when does it run out? The pillars of this week's VBS, no matter how for cornily presented, tackle these questions and doubts head-on. How do I tell the children that God's love or prayer or the Bible helps us stand strong? Is it with a hand motion or a song? What keyword or mnemonic device do I use to help them understand the theology behind the Crucifixion? How can you get the kids to understand the absolute and objective truth behind the Christian Gospel when you can't get them to understand that they should not try to cut each others' hair during craft time?
There is no greater frustration than to know the Truth and be unable to communicate it because of language, cultural, age, or other barriers -- to have Reality itself presented in front of you but be unable to share it with others. How can I get these kids to understand the truth presented to them when they are still at an age where their first guess at my age is 46? [Note: I am not and (I hope, anyway) don't look 46, either.]
Herein we return to the mystery of the common Christian faith: The Gospel transcends these barriers of age because it is true. Regardless of my struggles or interpretation of the Gospel, it is this objective truth behind this core element of faith that my crew is able to understand the teachings presented to them each day; not because we did an excellent job being leaders, but because there is no other alternative, because there is no other objective principle, because there is no other truth than that revealed by Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection. That the kids can understand the greatest truth they will ever know -- that Jesus came to for them so they can be reunited in holy union with God -- in spite of the flaws and distractions of me, the leaders, VBS, and the church -- that is the mystery of faith.