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Tuesday, June 08 2004 19:00
“Did God make himself?” This question, if you can believe it, a four-year-old child recently asked her mother. She really did.

How could such a young person ask such a deep question? I don’t know but have irreproachable witness that she actually did.

Maybe it’s an example of the natural wonder that every child is born with. This would be the wisdom that children have until schooling or Saturday morning cartoons shake it out of them.

Whatever the case, the question about God qualifies as an instance of someone almost unbelievably young reaching into mystery.

Mystery is that condition of things whereby there is more to be known about them than we can ever know.

I take it as a gift that I have been able to maintain some of the wonder about God’s inner life that I first felt as a child. Thanks to my spiritual tradition with its emphasis upon the Holy Trinity, I learned enough about the inner life of God to enable me to think about this mystery from time to time all through the decades of my own life.

While not claiming to be a theologian, I have read what theologians have said.

More important, I have entered into the celebrations of the church’s liturgy that have focused on various aspects of the divine being.

What I love about this mystery is its revelation of an exciting dynamism within God. The divine being is seen as the site of movement, rather than inactivity. There is not a lonely solitude there but rather a continual exchange of love.

In this scenario, the Father gives life to the Son, and then together in love they produce the Holy Spirit. If this sounds sexual, then perhaps it is reflected in the physical love that human beings exchange with one another. It is the way we use human experience to grope for who God is.

This language does not mean gender, however, because that would make the three persons, or at least two of them, sound masculine. Father and Son have to be understood as above gender, so that you can call God “She” just as much as “He.” And, if you follow the original language of the Bible, you almost have to call the Holy Sprit “Her.”

Back to the girl’s question, I do not know how her mother answered. My response would have been to explain my belief that God never needed a beginning. God always was.

I like to think that this answer might stimulate further wonder on the child’s part about God’s being. Could there actually exist a being who never began, always was?

Not having any experience of a thing without a beginning, we are flabbergasted by such thinking. Even the astronomers, who assign almost unimaginable ages to the galaxies that make up the universe, see the Big Bang as the beginning of that universe.

To get your mind around the idea of a non-beginning, you have to go beyond rational thinking. Drawing on some of the wonder I felt in my early years, I still find it stimulating to contemplate that reality.

As further answer to the child’s question I would fantasize about the movement in God’s inner life as a kind of replacement for a beginning. No, God did not have to make himself but God did not have to simply wait around doing nothing. Instead, there was this marvelous activity that amounted to a life fuller than can be imagined.

The question we began with here contains an insight altogether remarkable in a child. Her asking it means that she has at least some grasp of something fundamental about God. The girl seems to know that God is sufficient unto himself.

Otherwise she would not have posed the question as she did. Her words presuppose that no one else could have made God. Only God would have been an agent powerful enough to have been the cause of his own existence.

I feel glad for a child’s question that has stimulated me to an enriched contemplation about God. God did not need to make himself but I believe God made me. And I am convinced God did so out of the love that permeates his own being.

That realization strikes me as enough to reenergize the contemplative life for many a meditation.

Richard Griffin