“Daddy, have I seen Jesus?”
The question emerges from the back seat darkness. It’s late, way past bedtime. One son, sixteen months, already is conked on the trip home from Grannie’s. The radio’s off, and after several minutes of highway hum I realize my other son, three and a half years, has not, after all, been chasing his brother to Neverland. He’s been ruminating.
For years he’s heard about Jesus; suddenly it occurs to him that he’s never actually met the Fellow. Recently he’s been asking all his acquaintances if they know each other. Has Grannie met Kylie? Has Kylie met Sam? Has Sam met Aunt Kate? How fascinating to realize kaleidoscope of faces and names in his life isn’t a radial wheel, himself at center – it’s a webwork of possible cross-connection. Some people he hasn’t met, like his mother’s mother’s mother, or his aunt’s boss’s wife. Still, they’re not mentioned often. Somehow there’s a person everyone else seems to know, someone he himself has never met.
Has my son seen Jesus? No is the easy answer, but it’s too negative, too closed. In the Bible? That’s not what he’s getting at. Briefly I consider that Jesus may have appeared to him personally; sometimes he utters things so spiritually uncanny that my wife and I suspect God deals with him directly. Had he met Jesus in the flesh, though, he would probably remember.
Enough deliberating – I need to respond. “Not yet,” I say. “But you will one day, when you go to heaven.”
“I’m going to heaven?”
My chuckle is bittersweet. He’s heard of heaven, sure, but it hasn’t occurred to him that he would ever go there because we don’t talk in front of him about death. How do you tell a three-and-a-half-year-old that this bursting promise of life will end? That one day his body will fall silent and cold? Maybe my wife and I are sheltering him. Still, I’m not about to deliver the bad news now, not on a highway in the dark with him strapped in the back seat where I can’t hold him. This is the boy who, learning his ears might “pop” on an airplane, screamed for fifteen minutes with both hands clamped on the sides of his head the remainder of the flight. And that was just ears.
“Yes, you’re going to heaven,” I confirm. “When you grow up and are very, very old, you will go to be in heaven with Jesus.” Oversimplified, yes, but the day for caveats will come soon enough.
It’s quiet a while. Since he’s blissfully free of the cultural baggage of clouds and harps and pearly gates, I wonder about the images heaven is conjuring in his head. I shift lanes, preparing to exit.
Then his little voice again: “Will you be there?”