We adults have our own view of all things theological, we like to get it sorted in our heads and pass on what we think to the children. Sometimes we’ve wrestled with it ourselves, and sometimes we have just accepted what the previous generation told us - because we have never been required to test it for ourselves. Sometimes we forget to let the children wrestle with it for themselves, to ask questions - and not be afraid to ask them.
Many people are shocked when children question, as though we think they are rejecting all the wisdom we have passed on because of their questioning. But questioning is healthy. It helps a child to own their faith and grow in it as they journey, rather than getting to university and thinking “So why do I believe this….?”
I’ve written on the subject of how children view suffering and God before, and had a lot of theology thrown at me as a result. There were lot’s of different views, some of the readers rather surprised that I needed this subject explaining to me and set about trying to ‘correct’ my theology. I didn’t need it explaining or correcting - I never said I did. What I did question was how we help children who are suffering, as I felt they needed it explaining rather better than we do! I felt we should’t be saying “this is the answer - lump it”, but rather - “these are different ways of looking at it” and giving space and permission for anger and grief, a place for asking questions of both us and God.
Last time I wrote on this I talked of how I have had angry conversations with God about things and I got responses from readers along the lines of “Until I accept that these things are God will...then…. etc, etc” I was cross with these responses - and I have a firm faith. So just think how a questioning child would feel with this response?!
I have seen the faith of too many children smashed to pieces because of poorly thought through theology pressed on the child when they are not in a place to hear it. To tell a child who has just lost their mother that they should be happy for their mother - because they are in heaven is crass beyond words….. but I’ve heard it said! The same child was told within days of losing her, that their mother’s death was God’s will. Ok - that might be your theology, but please don’t say it to a child who’s mother died in a car crash days before.
During my first year as a children’s evangelist I had a 7 year old girl in a small group. She was a Christian, but struggling with coming to terms with some horrible stuff happening in her life. I will never forget her screaming at me, whilst grabbing at her chest repeatedly; “I don’t want God in my heart any more, I hate Him, I hate Him, He doesn’t work”
Sometimes there comes a time when we have to stop trying to explain God’s reasoning (Only God knows that!) and just hold the child and cry with them….. And not be afraid to admit that we just don’t understand. That’s what I did.
After I have cried with them and allowed them to shout - I don’t try to explain God…. Or make excuses for Him - that’s not for me to do. What I can do is help them to hold on to God in the middle of their crisis. I will talk theology (What God thinks about it) when they are ready - and want to talk about.
What I want for them is to find God in the depths of the pain, to give them the resources to eventually allow God to redeem the situation, to hold them and to comfort them. Before we can say anything else, they need to know more than anything that God still loves them - even in the depths of their despair and angry questions - they are within that love.
Think of the song ‘Father God I Wonder’. I love that song - but have you ever tried to sing the chorus from the middle of a deep crisis? When the last thing we want to do is ‘Sing God’s praises’? It’s difficult to do - especially when told that this is “God’s Will”. But it seems we expect kids to happily do this.
With older kids, and this song in mind I have sometimes talked through the occasions I have sung it, not wanting to praise God, and yet at the same time - determined to praise Him, just because I am still aware of God’s love. The gritted teeth, hands clenched, tears streaming down your cheeks version where you sing “I WILL sing your praises”. This is usually called a ‘sacrifice of praise’ and it’s not easy, but it is often the first step to allowing God into the grief and the pain.
It’s good to share your story - not to say that you understand, because you can’t…. They are not you. Tell it to say “You are not alone, you can talk to me”.
I am not a professional counselor - but like many of those who work with children, I am often the first contact for a child in crisis. I will always suggest counseling to parents, but I am also aware that my initial response to the child is key to gaining their trust for the future.
You’ve probably guessed where my theology on suffering sits :o) Your theology may sit in a different place, and that’s fine by me.
The purpose of this blog post is not to compare theology or war scars - it’s to fight for the faith of the children I love and serve.