Friday, June 7, 2013

Theological Questions Kids Ask

Theological Questions Kids Ask Pt. 1

Here are some of the questions my oldest daughter has asked me over the years, most of which have come recently. She's eight years old. Children ask a lot of profound questions, and sometimes, I have to tell her "I don't know." It's amazing the questions children ask, because theologians, philosophers, and just all-around-type folks ask these questions all the time, as they have done for thousands of years. Here's a short list of some questions my oldest daughter has asked me. I'll just focus on my response to the first one here.

1. If God knows what I’m going to ask for, why should I pray?
2. If God is good and wants to save everyone, why does David pray that God would destroy his enemies?
3. How do we know we are worshipping the right god?
4. How come what's his name doesn’t believe in God?
5. If everyone knows God exists, why doesn’t everyone believe in him?
6. How do I know God is real when I can’t see him?
7. How come people haven’t baptized their children?
8. Daddy, are Baptists saved?
9. What’s the difference between us and the Mormons next door?
10.  Daddy, what does this (holds up middle finger) mean?  I saw it on the bus.

#1: We had been talking about praying for our enemies, and this includes those who are hostile to Christian people in countries like Nigeria. We also prayed for our intellectual enemies like evolutionary biologist and militant atheist Richard Dawkins (We'll have more to say about Dawkins's disdain for teaching theology to children later. Say with snobbish British accent: I do hope it's not outlawed here in the good ol' U.S. any time soon. 'Twould be a pity).  

Out of the blue, Brynne asks question #1. My first reply was that this is a great question! I always encourage our children to ask hard questions, and I've let them know that no question is out-of-bounds in our house. I told her that some people will deny that God knows everything about the future, so that our prayer requests for things aren't "against" (in contradiction to) the knowledge of God.  

She has a puzzled look. I said, "But it seems to me that the Bible teaches that God knows everything," and I read Psalm 139 to her, and Matthew 6:8 "Therefore do not be like them (hypocrites in the synagogues and babbling pagans), for your Father knows the things you need of before you ask him." Of course, I was quick to note that Matthew 6:8 doesn't necessarily teach that God knows what we are going to ask for, but that he knows what we need. There's a difference. But then there's Psalm 139:4: "For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold O Lord (YHWH), you know it altogether."

The question of divine action in explaining omniscience and human activity is of course, as deep as the ocean. So, how do you explain this mind-bending question to a small child with integrity?  

I explained to my children that first of all, I don't really know how to understand that God knows the future and that we ask for things, and yet somehow, our asking for things doesn't mean that we shouldn't. In adult terms, it doesn't render prayer meaningless. The reason for this, I said to my family, was that the Bible tells us to pray for things, and Jesus, for example, told us to ask for our daily bread. That's the bottom line: Jesus tells us to pray for things, so we do. The other part of the bottom line is, when teaching small children (and adults, of course!), it's ok to say, "You know: that's a good question, and I really don't know the answer--and I'm not sure I ever will. There are people who write books on the question and when you get older you can explore these questions in a much deeper way." In fact, Daddy has a number of books in his library that talk about that topic at great length. 

The good in all of this is that my children are asking deep questions, and they feel free to do so. I hope I'm providing decent answers. The next question was about the "imprecatory" Psalms, where David asks the Lord to crush his enemies. How does this square with what Jesus taught?


Julia Byrd said...

Thanks for the great questions and thoughts, Chris.

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Thanks for reading the blog, Julie! Children ask a lot of excellent questions, and it's a real challenge to answer them.