Recently, after a particularly rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine", my five-year-old asked, "Mommy, who is Satan?"
My first instinct was to say, " Let's call your Godparents!" because that's what Godparents are for: the hard questions, especially the theological ones, right? But he's a preacher's kid and it seems like a question that I should be able to answer.
"Satan is the baddest of bad guys, buddy. He is the meanest, awfullest one out there. There is no one worse than Satan. The thing that makes him so bad is that he doesn't like God and he doesn't listen to God and he tries to make other people not like God, too."
"Oh. But he's not as bad as The Joker, right?"
"Much worse than The Joker."
"Worse than Megatron?"
"Yep." This is going pretty well, I thought. Satan as the anti-superhero. Then just as I was patting my own back for relating properly to my five-year-old boy...
"Oh. But he's not real, right?"
Drat. "Well, yes, he is real. But not in a way we can see. Just like God is real in a way we can't see. Satan is the one who puts thoughts in our heads that make us want to do bad things to other people. Satan is the one who convinces us to make bad choices instead of good ones."
He seemed to accept that, my poor little preacher's kid.
It is a hard conversation to have, though, the conversation about evil. On one hand, I want to protect him and his little sister from the idea that evil even exists, almost as much as I want to protect them from evil itself. On the other hand, I'm a realist and I know that they will encounter it out in the world, so perhaps my job is to arm them with as much knowledge as possible, doling it out in bits and bytes as they become ready for it. He is, after all, quite familiar with superheroes and bad guys. he knows that he makes his own bad choices and that his friends do, too. He even knows his parents make bad choices (Well, his dad does. I, of course am perfect. *Snort*)
My husband and I have been treading ever-so-carefully on the idea of "good" people and "bad" people. These conversations have come up as we have started teaching "stranger danger". They've also come up when talking about smoking, graffiti, littering...
A huge portion of my own theology-- the one I'm passing on to my kids, like it or not-- centers around the idea that God created us good. I believe we were created beloved, just as the Creator intended us to be. It isn't a perfect theology. It hinges hard on free will. I do think people can become "bad"-- spoiled, in a sense, by their own choices and choices others make that effect them-- but this is nuanced in a way that I'm not ready to discuss with my preschoolers. And I (perhaps naively) believe that no one is beyond redemption, if not here on this earth, then in the next one. If I can teach my kids to see that potential without inappropriate naiveté, I will consider my job well done.