Kids are tough nuts to crack sometimes. Maybe they don't believe we'll take them seriously, or maybe they think their questions are silly or unimportant, or maybe they think they have something about the world figured out that they don't. And sometimes they just aren't articulate enough or don't have the right emotional language to express what they're feeling and where they're stuck.
If you believe as I do that great teaching answers the questions kids are already asking, then it's important that we know where kids are coming from, that we give them a space to think and ask questions without being judged, and that we pay attention to what they're asking. Because the question they ask isn't always the real question, as evidenced by the questions we've been collecting over the last few weeks.
We've invited kids to write out questions that really trouble them and submit them anonymously, with the added provision that if they want a personal response they can leave their e-mail address or phone number. Here are just some of the questions:
- Do animals go to heaven?
- How do you know Jesus is real?
- Is it wrong to comfort your friends when they did something wrong, but they're sorry?
- Who created hell?
- Why can't God destroy Satan and sin?
- Is Satan a person/who created him?
- Who are God's angels and who created them? Who are the devil's demons and who created them?
- Can God still talk to us?
- Why do people get depressed?
- Do dogs and cats and dinosaurs go to heaven?
- What is forever?
- What is it like in heaven?
- Why did God choose Mary to have Jesus?
- Why did God go to hell?
- I once read in the Bible: Temptation is not a sin. If it was, Jesus would have sinned. What does that mean?
- What does it mean exactly to fear God?
- How can I get a friend that is cool and popular that I am nervous to talk to?
- Why is Jesus Christ outlawed in other countries?
- Who causes people to sin?
- Why does God allow evil things on earth?
What conclusions, if any, can we draw from questions like these? Several, I think:
1. Kids are curious about existential realities, like Where did God come from? and Why did he create the earth? Their minds are trying to get hold of abstract ideas like eternity and substance.
2. Kids are starting to face the question of evil: if God is good and loving, why is there evil in the world? This is a major stumbling block for people of faith. As one who is now working his way through the book, The Shack, I am well aware that just as personal circumstances can cause different people to approach this question differently, the same circumstances mean people will answer the question differently, too.
3. Pre-teen kids are perceptive to things they've heard or read in their Bibles that don't exactly make sense. For instance, the question about God going down into hell - as a kid, I was forced to memorize the Apostle's Creed and the line about Jesus "descend[ing] into hell...on the third day he rose again", and so I just sort of accepted it as true without really thinking about where we got that belief and why it was significant. I don't think a question like that reflects doubt, but a desire to reconcile what seems not to make much sense.
4. Related to that, kids are curious as to why God has acted in the way he has. Most kids will accept at face value a statement like, "God is all-powerful", because I said it and I'm an adult and they trust me. But the working out of that belief takes some wrestling: Why is there still sin? Why is there Satan? Why does God let a bad thing happen?
5. Kids have a desire and a need to understand what motivates other people, and how they think. How can people adhere to other religions? Why would they be angry at Christians or ban the religion altogether? We ignore discussing these things at our peril. Kids of this age are beginning to understand that the world doesn't revolve around them and their needs and that the world is full of differences, some God-ordained, some that are the result of sinful choices. When kids meet others with different spiritual convictions but who are still "good people", there is some dissonance that happens. Kids need an organizing structure for seeing the world, particularly when encountering people who think and believe differently than they do.
6. Kids by and large are not crying out for character or life-skill instruction. Their questions are deep and meaningful.
And not easily answerable. But they present a huge opportunity, because oftentimes the question that gets asked isn't the one that needs to be answered. Instead, if you can re-frame someone's understanding of the world - who God is, how he interacts with mankind, what our obligations are towards one another - the questions answer themselves.
This will be a great journey, and I invite you to follow it at our newest blog site, http://surgenotes.blogspot.com, where outlines of all the weekend messages will be posted from now on.