One of the most endearing and exhausting features of children is their questions. You know the sort of thing: ‘Why do I have two eyes if I only see one thing?’ or ‘Why don’t you have enough hair?’ This curiosity is natural and good; after all, we read that the boy Jesus questioned the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:46).
A child’s curiosity is generally unconstrained by embarrassment, hence parents face such questions as ‘Why is Grandad so fat?’ and ‘When are you going to die?’ This wonderful naïvety extends to God. Here children’s questions can often be profound, bizarre or both: for instance ‘Who made God?’ or ‘Will I sneeze in heaven?’
I’ve had a long-standing interest in how children learn about God and to specifically address this curiosity about God I’ve just written a book entitled That’s a Good Question! Questions are a child’s way of exploring this extraordinary world that they have found themselves in. The results of these childhood queries are not just vital, they are also enduring. The human mind behaves like slow-setting concrete and how a child shapes their view of God in a mind still fluid can, for good or bad, persist throughout their lives.
I believe that children’s questions about God deserve the very best answers and here let me suggest three principles.
Firstly, that we have a commitment to dealing with questions about God. I think we need to be committed in terms of time. We live in an age where communication with children has been squeezed to the minimum. In busy lives it’s all too easy to allow children to switch off and immerse themselves instead in electronic media of whatever sort. We need to engage with children and give them time to ask questions and us time to answer them properly. Let’s make space for grace!
That commitment to ‘God questions’ should extend to quality: God questions deserve good answers. Some children’s questions may be based on something misunderstood or misheard and are easily answered: for example, ‘Why do people go to Devon when they die?’ Others, such as ‘Where does God live?’ or ‘Why can’t we see God?’ are demanding and require a wise answer expressed in a way that can be understood. Actually, the best response to some brain-stretching enquiry may be, ‘Good question! Let me think about that and I’ll try to answer it very soon.’ (And if you say that, keep your promise!) Better to give a child the right answer tomorrow than the wrong one today.
My second suggestion is that ‘God questions’ are treated as part of a conversation. Sometimes parents get embarrassed because they haven’t thought through the issues themselves but children are not fools and can sense in a laboured response if this is a topic where questions are not welcome. Seek to develop such questions. All answers can either be closed or open: closed answers shut down any discussion, while open answers invite a further response. So there’s a lot to be said for a reply which says something like ‘That’s my answer. But what do you think?’ Answers should stimulate the questioner, not silence them.
My third suggestion is that we respond with confidence. Precisely because children are sensitive to uncertainty and unbelief, how we answer their questions is important. Here I have no hesitation in saying that our responses need to be based on the authority of the Bible as God’s revealed truth. The reality is that if we don’t teach our children about the things of God then they will be taught about them by our culture. And I know which I prefer.
Children’s questions about God are vital and demand the best answers we can give. Let’s not cheat the adults of tomorrow by failing our children today.
So I am delighted to tell you about my new book That’s a Good Question! I asked ten children to send me their questions about God, Jesus and the Bible. I selected thirty-two of the questions and endeavoured to give clear and concise answers with some serious pondering. This has been a stimulating, challenging and hugely rewarding exercise!
I originally had in mind children aged from 8 to 11 years, but we have had a lot of feedback from adults regarding the titles in our Theology For Little People series – Knowing God, The Easter Story and The Christmas Story – who have expressed their joy at reading the books to even younger children and gaining for themselves a fresh understanding of these timeless stories.
I have a sense that this new children’s book with its amazing and creative illustrations will not only appeal to children but to adults, too, whether parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends.
J.John Revd Canon