question-mark-213671_1280While our family ate dinner one evening, a conversation, the kids started talking about the Lego Ninjago television show, which is one of their current favorites. Then, things took an unexpected turn. We started talking about the heroes and villains of Lego Ninjago, which led to a conversation about stories of good versus evil, and how so many of those stories mirror the story of Scripture. Before we knew it, our 9-year-old daughter was asking us some fairly intense theological questions:

“The Bible says God doesn’t do bad things, but if He’s in charge of everything, doesn’t He make bad things happen? Couldn’t He have stopped Adam and Eve from ruining the whole world?” 

All of a sudden, that Taco Cabana turned into the Central Texas Seminary for Little People, and the professors (my wife Shannon and I) felt poorly qualified! Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. Some children seem to accept everything with simple (“child-like”) faith, while others constantly ask hard questions.

What are we parents to do when our kids start asking extremely difficult questions about the Bible, ones that even grown-ups have a hard time answering well? There are no easy formulas, and every child is different, but here are a few general thoughts that might be helpful to you:

1. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath or two. It’s going to be alright. Your kid isn’t trying to overthrow your authority or call you a liar. He or she is simply asking questions. Anybody who thinks carefully about what they believe is eventually going to ask these questions. So this is good news for you: Your child wants to ask you these questions, because he or she thinks you can help. It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

2. Take their questions seriously. Don’t assume that your child lacks the mental or spiritual ability to talk about the deep things of God. Don’t dismiss their questions as impertinent, silly, or irritating. Avoid saying things like, “You ask too many questions,” or, “You’re too young to talk about Calvinism.” If it’s not a good time to talk, tell your child that their question is going to require some focus and time to answer well, and schedule a future “appointment” to discuss it (sometime soon). Affirm the question, and their desire to learn more about God. For example: “Wow, that’s an important question. I wonder about that sometimes, too. I’m glad you ask questions like this. Let’s talk about it for a few minutes.”

3. Don’t just give them answers; teach them to think for themselves. One good way to accomplish this is to ask them questions in response to their questions. For example, “Why do you think that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that tree?” “What does the Bible tell us God is like: does He make rules for no reason, or does He have good reasons for what He does?” Wait for them to think about their answers, and don’t be afraid to let your children do a little bit of the work. As a parent, your goal is ultimately to help them to develop their own faith. When they’re very young, you may have to do more of the talking. But as they grow older, give them opportunities to answer their own questions while you guide them. Ideally, they’ll grow up to be dependent upon God, but independent of you.

4. When you do provide answers, get them from the Bible. Resist the temptation to speculate, or to fill in gaps that the Bible leaves open. Tell them what God’s Word says about death and resurrection, or about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Direct them to important passages and have them read those passages aloud. Make it clear that your ultimate source of information about God is the Word of God.

5. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. Then search for the answers together. The quickest way to ruin your credibility is to pretend you have answers when you don’t. Admit your ignorance, but don’t stop there. Say something like, “Wow, I don’t really have a good answer to that one. Why don’t we try to find the answer together?” Then, make an appointment to talk to your pastor, or find an age-appropriate book on the topic, or just open the Bible and look at it together. Show your children what it looks like to study the Scripture in order to learn about God.

6. Don’t be afraid of the mysteries. There are some questions that we simply cannot answer, no matter how much research we do. Some of God’s mysteries are simply beyond our reach; we won’t be able to understand. Once you’ve really done your best to help your child understand, it’s alright to say, “That’s about as much as we can know right now. One day, God might tell us more, but because He’s so much greater than we are, we can’t understand everything. Sometimes, we just have to trust Him.” I want to be clear, though: Don’t start with the presupposition that everything is a mystery beyond our grasp. The Bible tells us a lot, even though it doesn’t tell us everything. Make an effort to find good answers, and to help your child find good answers. Then, when you’ve reached the end of what you can know, let them know that it’s alright if we don’t know everything. Mysteries are a part of what makes following God adventurous and exciting.

Ultimately, the way you approach your kids’ tough questions is every bit as important as the answers you provide. You have a powerful opportunity to shape the way they think about God, and to provide them with the tools to tackle tough questions, even when you’re not around to answer them.

Question: What other ideas do you have for talking to kids about hard questions? Have you found anything to be particularly helpful?