June 7, 2012

What Do Say When a Child Starts Asking Big God Questions?

Yes, kids ask the big questions about God. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there suffering in the world? Who made God? How do you answer?

I can remember having very long conversations with my own daughters, usually at bedtime when I was so tired. Part of why they ask reflects the partial or superficial answers we typically give children. But these questions have been written about since the dawn of time. There are thousands of pages devoted to seeking answers. Even in the Bible, you can see Job, for example, asking these questions. Kids ask as they begin to put aside their childish faith and assume a more mature faith, one where there are no easy answers. Believe me, all kids wonder to some extent, but some quit asking--and that is not a good thing. Better to ask even though it may be difficult for for them to understand how there can be more than one right or true answer. They struggle to understand how you can have a relationship with someone you can’t see and what it means to have a relationship with God at all. But these questions are critical and how they are answered can have life-lasting consequences.

Faith is like love; we can’t see it; we only know where it is there and when it’s not.

To learn about such things as "predestination" and other Church doctrines go, it might be helpful to understand where those concepts came from and how they changed over the centuries. Take, for example, predestination, that concept was articulated by Augustine (400 years or so after Jesus). Augustine was responding to the issues of his time about such things as free will (another thing he helped define), but also the Church should deal with the barbarian hordes who sacked Rome. He is also responsible for other things we may take for granted like original sin. But John Calvin (during the Reformation)picked predestination up, primarily from Augustine but also others, in response to the needs of the people of his time. He really meant to give people comfort and assurance of their salvation as opposed to the Catholic Church, where you never knew where you stood with God as far as heaven goes. All this to say that by studying history and biographies of the great theologians (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc.), kids (and adults)can come to understand that these folks were not living in a vacuum, but responding to specific anxieties of their time. As far as predestination, Calvin’s followers further developed the term. This also changed it into something Calvin never meant but that we see today.

It also helps kids to know that they are not alone in asking but that finding answers will put them on a path of discovery and faith with some of the greatest minds the world has known, perhaps propelling them into further study. But finding God also means finding ways to serve; that is, practice being Jesus to others. Some answers only come through doing mission, while some will come through books, and others will come through in-depth relationships.

These questions will not just go away; they will continue to find new ways to ask them. Sorry, I don’t have quick or easy answers; as you already know, there aren’t any—but that is the point.

In times like this, I recall a wise saying from Bernard of Clairvaux: “First we love ourselves for our sake, then we love God for our sake, then we love ourselves for God’s sake, then we love God for God’s sake.”

Grace, Kathy

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