CHILDLIKE FAITH, CHILDLIKE DOUBT
March 24, 2009
My oldest daughter is five years old. Because of her level of comprehension (stellar, as far as 5-year-olds go), my wife and I have made a conscious effort to pour a lot of reality into her head. We've taught her that there is no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, and in the process of doing so, we've taught her to be conscious of behaviors built around imaginary figures -- figures she can't touch or feel. While she still embraces imagination (we often play "adventure," which is basically like playing a tabletop role-playing game, but without the paper and dice), she's very good about understanding the difference between reality and fantasy.
This, of course, makes conversations about God rather strange. I can't help but think that the mental myth-filter we've instilled in our daughter to rule out Santa and the Easter Bunny can be applied to a deity she cannot touch and cannot see. And it's around this deity that we base much of our lives - we attend a church service, we facilitate a mid-week bible study, we pray regularly at home, and as one might expect, a crisis of belief eventually surfaced.
In our home, we are quick to apply some negative reinforcement around particular behaviors. One of the things we've been teaching our children is that lying is unacceptable, and that it merits quick and stiff consequences. In a recent event, our daughter exclaimed, "I asked God to help me to not lie, but it's hard, because I can't hear God!"
How do you explain the presence of an intangible deity to a child? Or to an adult, even?
Perhaps the way we read God's references to Himself in the text is enough. The text describes God as a rushing wind... as light... as a consuming fire. We can't see the wind, but we can see its effect on things. We can't see light, but with light, we can see the things around us. We can't hold a flame, but we can feel it when it is near. And while these don't "prove" the existence of God to anyone, for the ones who already believe, it accurately describes the way we relate to this God who eludes our senses.
So I explained to my child that God lets us lie. He doesn't stop us from doing things we shouldn't to do. Often, He lets us suffer the consequences of our actions so we will understand why our actions might be wrong. Sometimes, we have to see that our words and actions can hurt people. From that, we can learn to work towards strengthening relationships instead of tearing them down.
And in fact, the scriptures are not a summary of people who made good and moral decisions. It is not a book of righteous people; quite the contrary. It is a summary of God's relationship with people who make terrible decisions, and a demonstration of God's faithfulness in spite of their sinfulness. And that is the heart of the Gospel. And I think that's the heart of parenting as well -- we know our children will make poor choices, and we choose to care for them and love them unconditionally, regardless of those choices. And it's only in such a relationship that faith and trust make any sense. This is the childlike faith Jesus longs for from His people.