My daughter Katelynn has always been as sharp as a whip. She loves to learn. At church, people used to get kicks out of her understanding of theological issues. When she was six she came to me and saw that I was reading the Greek New Testament and asked if she could learn. Within the month she started reading Greek. She has known the Gospel since she could listen. I watched a home video of her tonight. She was two-years-old. In the video I asked her where Jesus was and she pointed to the sky. Why? Because I told her that is where God is. She simply believed what I said.
Will (Batman), Kylee (top), Katelynn, (holding Zack), Zack (being held!)
When do children come to a point where their learning is critically evaluated and internalized? When will Katelynn truly trust in Christ or has she already. A more fearful question is Will she ever trust in Christ? I don’t like to think about this. I like to just take her at her word when I ask her if she trusts in Christ and she says “Yes.” I would like to think Well, that is that. She believes. Thank you Lord. But I have lived long enough to know that things are not always that simple. My sister, Angie, would have said the same thing at Katelynn’s age. Yet, when Angie was in her late 20s she began to call me late at night saying How do you really know God exists. It was the first time that I know of that she questioned His existence. It was the first time that she was critical about her faith. Does this mean that she was really not a believer? Most certianly not. If this were the case, we would all be in trouble as we all have moments when we ask Is this really true? How do I really know? Most of us are just scared to admit it. John the Baptist did the same just before his death asking Christ,Â “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). Are you REALLYÂ the oneÂ Jesus?
Children are interesting.Â The time when they come of age to begin to be able to ask critical questions, such as Angie’s and John the Baptist’s,Â is different for each child. The question is Do we encourage this type of thinking early enough? I don’t think so. Goodness, many of us have not even come to that point yet. It is too hard to entertain that we might not be correct. It is too hard to ask the question, Are you REALLY the one, or should we look for another? If it is too hard for us to entertain such questions, how hard is it for us to actually encourage this type of critical thought in our children?
Katelynn, who is now 8-years-old, came to me last night with a very surprising question (and this is why I write this blog). She said “Daddy, how do you really know that God is there?” I asked her why she was asking and she responded, “Because I just don’t see him and it is so hard to believe.” We talked for the next hour about this. I brought in my other daughter, Kylee (6-years-old), and my son Will (3-years-old)Â and we had a long discussion. I asked her to imagine a world without God. She said, “That cannot be right, then who would have made everything?” I continued to probe and say that maybe it just came from nothing. She disagreed saying that that was not possible. I then tried to argue (playing devil’s advocate), bringing up other possibilities. She shot them all down. I then proceeded to explain to her the resurrection of Christ, the apostles deaths, and methods of historical inquiry. Yes, I really did. She understood it all. In the end, she was satisfied, but still wanted to see God. I understood and agreed.
We then began to talk about the Gospel. In my mind I was thinking, maybe this is the time that she is going to truly trust in Christ if she has not already. I explained to her the difference between belief and trust. We used a great illustration. I lined the kids up and asked if they believed I could catch them. They all agreed I could. I asked if they really believed that I was strong enough to hold up their falling bodies. Frustrated that I asked a second time, they say “Of course, you always catch us daddy.” I then said, “Although you believe that I can catch you, do you trust me to catch you?” Again, they answered with a “Yes.” I had them turn around, close their eyes, and then I asked them to fall back and let me catch them. After fighting over who was going to go first, Katelynn stepped up to the plate. She giggled, hesitated, giggled some more, and then began to peak to see if I was really there. I said “No peaking. If you believe that I can catch you, you have to trust me to do so.” She finally fell back, but one leg moved back with her to sheild the fall. She did not trust me completely. I said, “I thought you believed that I could catch you.” She said, “I do!” I said, “Then why didn’t you trust me to do so?” After a couple of more times, they did it. All of them!
I explained that while they may believe in Christ, they must also trust in what He did. I told them that their belief does not have to be perfect, it just has to be real. I explained to them again as I have many times that they are going to have to trust in Christ on their own someday. Katelynn always gets mad at me for saying “someday.” She responds, “I do trust in Him today.” I always respond, “Good. I do too.” I want them to feel comfortable around me with their questions, doubts, or disbelief. I don’t want such critical thought to wait until they are in their 20s wondering whether their faith is theirs or that of the mom and dad. I want to give them the opportunity to disbelieve so they might truly believe.
After this Katelynn began to cry. I asked her what was the matter and she named a friend of hers who she said did not trust in Jesus. She asked what would happen to her. I said that people who don’t trust in Jesus go to the place that they have chosen, a bad place out of the presence of God where they will be for all eternity. She began to cry even more. Kylee joined in at this point (she is the very emotional one) adding her tears. I asked her what was the matter and she began to name friends whom she did not want to go to Hell. Just for good measure, in support of his sisters, Will joined the chorus (even though he had no clue what was going on!). So now I have just had the best spiritual conversation that I have ever had with my children and they are all bauling their eyes out. I thought to myself Well this is great!
My first instinct as a fatherÂ was to stop the crying. My first instinct as a Christian was to make what seemed difficult, easier and therefore stop the crying. My first instinct as a theologian was to explain how it was really the fault of those who reject God and therefore explain away the crying. Yet, when it came down to it, I did not say anything. I had no words of comfort. In fact, I did not think it was wise to try to comfort them concerning this. I put them in bed and lameted with them. As I walked out of their room, hearing the sniffles, I thought to myself I think they understand the Gospel.