I waved my hand in the air. "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I said. "If God is love, I don't understand why there's hell." What my Sunday school teacher wasn't understanding, though, was why the new kid in class wouldn't be quiet.
I'd never been in Sunday school before. Irrefutably proving once and for all that Christians were bonkers was the fact that they apparently couldn't get enough school in their lives. But we were new to our neighborhood, and my dad, a salesman, had decided we should all attend church. And right off the bat I had learned that adults went to church, while their kids got shoveled off to some place that I was rapidly discovering was modeled on Actual School, but wasn't.
For sure my new Sunday school teacher, Miss Quinn, hadn't liked my latest question. She hadn't liked any of my questions. I had asked them by way of participating, by showing that I understood that I was now in a school that was all about God.
Plus, I had gotten pretty immediately into it. Who doesn't want to know all they can about the absolute ruler of the entire universe?
"The reason there is hell," answered Miss Quinn with a studied patience "---although that is a bad word, class, that we must never, ever use---is because that is where people who do bad and evil things end up as their punishment for disobeying God."
I shot my arm back in the air. It was obvious that somehow my relationship with my latest teacher had gotten off on the wrong foot---but I was confident she'd get back to her natural state of liking me if I asked a really good question that demonstrated with what care I was paying attention. Plus, I was genuinely curious.
I saw Miss Quin's neck tense a bit as she looked at me. "Yes?"
"If God is all-powerful and all-knowing," I said, "then before a person is even born, God must know if that person is going to hell or not, right?" Miss Quinn's expression made clear she had not yet been moved to cuddle me. "But why would God make anyone just so they could spend eternity in hell?" There. I'd delivered the coup de' cuddle.
"What did I just say about cursing?"
"You said not to," offered a shiny-faced boy I instantly hated.
"That's right, Bobby. I said not to curse." To me Miss Quinn said, "And yet you chose to curse anyway, didn't you? Why do you think that is?"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I was just ... I was just asking a question about ... I mean ... how do I talk about ... that place, without actually calling it hell?"
The class gasped.
"What is the matter with you?" said Miss Quinn.
"Nothing. Nothing's the matter. I swear. I mean, I don't swear. I mean, I try not to swear if I can help it. I only wanted to ask a question about ... that place. That's all."
"Well, you've asked enough questions for today. Why don't you just sit there quietly and not ask any more questions, okay? That will be fine." Having properly dispatched of me, Miss Quin turned back to her chalkboard.
Having apparently been born without the Shut-Up gene, I was talking before I could stop it.
"That's not fair. I asked a real question. This is supposed to be Sunday school, right? You're supposed to learn stuff in school, not be told you can't use the words you have to use to ask the questions you need to ask to learn the stuff you're supposed to learn. What kind of crazy trap is that?"
"Young man!" yelled Miss Quinn. "Sit down!"
"And that's not even the point! The point is that I asked a real question. If God is all-knowing---if he knows everything that's going to happen before it happens---and someone ends up ... down there, then God must have known all along that that person was going to end up down there. If he let that happen to that person, then how can God be as loving as you said he was? If God didn't know that was gonna happen to that person, then how can he be all-knowing? And if he knew the person was going down there, and wanted to change it, but couldn't, then how can God be all-powerful? Now aren't those good questions?"
Miss Quinn came charging down the row of desks directly at me. "Oh," I said, and waited for her arrival. She grabbed my arm, and with it yanked me so violently forward that it knocked me off my feet.
"I can't believe you're actually dragging me out of class!" I cried. I called out to my classmates. "Those were good questions! Good questions!" With my arm wrenched painfully over my head I then fell silent, and watched the ceiling of the classroom going by.