I was sitting in church listening to the sermon one Sunday when I heard my 10-year-old daughter whisper, "Psst, Psst, Mom!" I leaned over to hear her better. "If the devil was an angel who sinned, can other angels sin?" she whispered much louder than she realized. "Not now, Sweetie!" I whispered back. "Let's talk about this after church."
No sooner had I settled back into the sermon when from the other side of me came an even louder whisper, "Mom, if there was no death in the Garden of Eden, does that mean all the animals were vegetarians?" This from Molly, my 8-year-old vegetarian.
I looked at their dad for help, but he was lost in the sermon. I cast an apologetic look at the family behind us and whispered, "Girls, I'm glad you're paying attention but we'll have to talk about this later. Ask me again at lunch. Okay?" then I said a quick prayer that God would serve me up a healthy dose of wisdom in the next half hour so I'd have a clue how to answer my girls.
No doubt about it. Kids can ask some questions that leave even the most learned parent scratching her head. Just when you think you have a thing or two figured out, they hit you with another doozy and you're not sure of your own name.
But the truth is, you don't have to have all the answers. "Don't ever be afraid to tell your child you don't know something," advises Dr. Chuck Borsellino author (with his wife Jennie) of How to Raise Totally Awesome Kids (Multnomah) and cohost of Family Net's "At Home With Chuck and Jennie." "Say 'I don't know but let's go to the Word together and find out.' or 'Let's find someone who does know.' Then seek the answer together", says Borsellino. So that's exactly what we've done. We've taken some of the toughest faith questions kids ask and gained some insight from the experts on how parents might answer them.
Why do I have to go to church?
"One simple way to answer this is 'The Bible says so,'" advises Sid Galloway director of Family Biblical Soulcare Counseling Service and senior pastor of Family Bible Church in Slidell, Louisiana. "Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves but instead to exhort (or encourage) one another. The way the Bible uses the word 'church' is literally translated to mean 'the called-out ones.' God calls Christians out of the world and into a local church family where we can grow together and urge each other on toward the image of Christ." So why go to church? Because God tells us to.
"Another way to look at it is to say 'Families do certain things together and this is something our family does together,'" says Borsellino. "Explain to your child, 'Our family goes to family reunions at Grammy's house. We cheer for each other on the ball field. We support each other when we're having a hard time. And we worship in church together.' This shows your child that the family unit is greater than the sum of Mom and Dad and the kids and offers him a greater sense of security as part of that unit."
If your child still protests, you might gently add, "This is what our family does. When you're head of your own family you can define it however you like. But right now you're part of this family and this family goes to church together."
How can I know I'm going to heaven?
Here's a great opportunity for a lesson on faith. Borsellino recommends, "Tell your child quite frankly, 'We can not know for certain that we're going to heaven but we can believe it with all our hearts." 1 John 5:10-13 explains what we must do in order to go to heavenbelieve in the Son of God. Once we've done this, we can believe through faith that we'll go to heaven when we die. It's not a matter of knowing but of accepting. If we knew for sure, if heaven was something we could see and touch and smell, it wouldn't require faith."
In John 14:2-3 Jesus promises, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." When Jesus promises us heaven, even though we've never seen it, never been there, we choose to believe his promise that we'll be there with him some day.
Why does God let bad things happen?
Here's a question even adults struggle with. Borsellino's answer is this: "God created people with a free will. He lets us make choices and choices have consequences. It makes sense that good choices have good consequences and bad choices have bad consequences. If God took away our free will, he'd be a dictator and we'd be a bunch of puppets who can't make choices on our own. Yes, that would eliminate any bad choices but it would also eliminate our need for fellowship with God."
Pastor Galloway adds, "No one wants bad things to happen but bad consequences and bad circumstances are often a launching pad for spiritual growth. It's when we find ourselves in the middle of them that we come to realize we need a relationship with God. If everything were hunky dory all the time, we probably wouldn't ever reach for God.
"My young son has endured six heart surgeries in his life. When he was 7, he asked me, 'Dad, why did God choose me to have all these surgeries?' I asked him what he thought the answer might be. After some consideration he said, 'Maybe it's so I'll realize I need him and also so, when we go to the hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, we can tell more people about Jesus.' I couldn't have said it better myself."
How does Jesus want us to treat homosexuals?
Borsellino recommends answering this question with another one. "Ask your child, 'How do you think Jesus wants us to treat adulterers or people who have babies before they're married? How does he want us to treat people suffering from gluttony or people who don't go to church? How about non-Christians? People who break the law?' The answer is simple. He wants us to treat them with love the way he treated the prostitutes and tax collectors in the Bible."
Pastor Galloway says, "This is a favorite trap of Satanto make Christians think one sin is worse than any other so we act holier than thou toward people who commit sins we feel are worse than our own. This creates a wall between others and us that prevents us from showing them the love of Christ. The Bible says sin is sin."
We do have to acknowledge that a homosexual lifestyle is wrong (Leviticus 18:22 calls it detestable), but so is lying about someone (slander), or cheating (swindling) or being greedy (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The message we need to convey is that Jesus loves homosexuals, just as he loves each of us in spite of our sins.
In addition, Borsellino reminds us that Jesus said, "I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matt. 25:36). We like to think this refers to people like Paul who are falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned but Jesus did not say, "I was wrongly imprisoned and you came to visit me." He doesn't mention guilt or innocence at all. In it's own way, sin is a prison and Jesus' words apply to people who are prisoners of addiction, or lust, or a homosexual lifestyle. Clearly we are called to love themregardless of how they became imprisoned.
How can Jesus and God be the same person?
Can any of usregardless of our agereally wrap our minds around the fact that the Father, Son, and Spirit can be three but one at the same time? But you can still offer your children a response to this complex theological question. Borsellino suggests an answer like this: "There are certain things that my mind, with its limitations, struggles withnot just about God but about life. I don't really understand electricity or how the planet revolves around the sun. I don't really get gravity or exactly how my car starts when I turn the key. However, Jesus said, 'Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me' (John 14:11). It's hard for me to imagine this. But if God's Word says it, I believe it. When I get to Heaven and my mind is no longer limited, I believe I'll understand but until then I'm willing to take it on faith."
Your children might still want some kind of explanation, so here's an object lesson that might help. Take a handful of ice cubes from the freezer and place them in a pot on the stove. Heat the pot until the ice cubes melt into water, then let the water boil and turn into steam. Explain that ice, water, and steam have the same chemical make uph2o. They are all water yet in three different forms serving three different functions. In a way, it's the same with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are all God but in three distinctly different forms, each with his own work to do.
Did you ever do drugs?
If you can honestly answer "No" to this question, more power to you. But for those of us who can't, Borsellino advises, "Tell the truth. As difficult as it may be, you don't ever want to tell your child something today that you may have to take back tomorrow. If he's old enough to ask this question, he's old enough to receive an honest answer."
Of course what you tell him should be age-appropriate and stay within healthy boundaries. You don't have to say everything to everybody. But don't be afraid to say, "Look, I've made some mistakes. If I could live my life over again that is one thing I'd do differently." It's a great time to tell your child how God forgives our sins but doesn't always spare us the consequences of our bad choices. For instance, maybe you wanted to join the police force but couldn't because you have a drug arrest record.
Pastor Galloway says, "Unfortunately I'm one parent who has to answer 'Yes' to this question. My children know this but they also know that I suffer from constant migraines because of my drug use as a young man. Hopefully by being honest with them I'm allowing them to learn from my mistakes and make wiser choices themselves when the time comes."
Did you save yourself for marriage?
Again, if your child is old enough to ask, she's old enough to hear an honest answer. Keep in mind what she's ready to hear. If your answer is no, admit that your decision was the wrong one, and tell your child how much you regret it. Tell her how your choice impacted you emotionally and spiritually.
But don't dwell on the negative. One of the mistakes we make when we talk about sexual issues with our children is to emphasize the painful results of early sexual activity, rather than explain the benefits of following God's plan for sex. So rather than focusing so much on what you did wrong, emphasize God's perfect plan for marriage and sexual relations between one man and one woman within marriage. Then talk about how beautiful and wonderful it will be for your child to know she's giving her spouse the gift of her purity, and how her spouse will feel knowing he's the only one to know her in such an intimate way.
Growing in wisdom and understanding is a life-long process; chances are good you have a few tough faith questions of your own. So join your child on her journey toward a deeper understanding of God. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy to "be prepared in season and out of season" to preach and teach God's Word (2 Tim. 4:2). That's a good word for parents as well.
Mimi Greenwood Knight and her husband, David, live in Louisiana and do their best to answer the neverending questions of their three children.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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