On Training Our Children.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.Proverbs 22:6
I have been a father for less than four years, but lately my three-year-old has made comments or asked questions that challenged my understanding of what it means to teach him about God, Jesus, and our connection to Him.
Who Is God?
One of the hardest things I’ve encountered being a parent is teaching concepts to a child that has no previous understanding. I remember trying to teach my son what my wife and I meant when we said that we “needed him to tell us the truth.” How do you ask a child to tell you the truth when that child has no understanding of what “truth” is? It became a habit to follow up requests of “I need you to do X” with the question, “Do you know what X is?”
And so came the question, “Do you know who God is?” When he answered “no,” I fumbled for a place to begin. Where do you start with the infinite God? After a couple of starts, I found my footing with “God is the one that created you and me and mommy and the entire world.” I have since become more confident that this is an ideal context to begin an understanding of God. “In the beginning was God, and God created everything.” Speaking the universe into existence is a solid approach to the sheer power, timelessness, big-ness, and other-ness of God. It is a connection between an intangible supreme being and the physical world that my son can see, touch, and understand.
The Value of Death
I understand the desire to shield children from the knowledge of death. I was surprised myself by how early I needed to start fielding questions about death. “What was our dog doing to that squirrel, daddy?” “What do lions eat?” The circle of life actively imposes itself on our life, and it is a concept that must be actively guarded if a father wants to shield his child from the somber reality of death.
I skirted the issue for a while, but found myself giving up and embracing the stance that my son not only should, but needs to have an understanding of death. We were reading about Jesus in his Bible story book, and I was telling him about who Jesus is and what He did for us and found that I couldn’t do justice to it without talking about His death and resurrection, and I couldn’t do justice to why that was important without talking about the inescapable and impending death awaiting each of us.
Just as we cannot understand our need for reconciliation without an understanding of our own sin and brokenness, we cannot understand the gravity of the crucifixion and the beauty of the resurrection without an understanding of our natural state and its natural conclusion.
I no longer have thoughts that it’s my job to shield my children from the morbid realities of life, but rather to teach why these realities are as such, so that they may have a greater understanding of both themselves and the God Who loves them.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6:6–7
Related to both of the previous points is the question of how do we teach our children about the state of the world, the state of themselves, and the God who is there? I stumbled onto the answer in trying to teach my son who God is, and from the same answer came the revelation of the importance of a knowledge of death. And that answer is stories.
God commanded the Israelites to teach His commandments to their children. Just as the Israelites were to teach their children about the commandments, a tangible point of connection between God and His people, I’ve found the best way to teach my son about God is to teach him about these connection points between God and humanity.
Most children’s Bibles and Bible story books are horribly oversimplified. They gloss over important details and stop short of important conclusions. We have one that stops with the birth of Jesus, and, as I just mentioned, I find His death and resurrection to be vitally important. We have another, though, that I’ve been very pleased with. It’s The Jesus Storybook Bible. Of course, it’s highly paraphrased as a children’s Bible needs to be, but it teaches the big concept of God’s love, His Son’s life and death, and why it’s important without shying away from the realities of sin and death and brokenness. I highly recommend it.
Even without a good children’s Bible, I believe that faithfully sharing the stories of God’s interaction with humanity throughout history is the best way to teach our children about God’s love, our need for Him, and what He has done for us. On a more personal level, I believe there’s value in sharing the stories of God’s interaction with us individually.
The Joy of Understanding
A side effect of these approaches has been a deepening of my own understanding. I’ve spent so many years with a conceptual understanding of God and the human condition that it’s easy to move past it. And that’s generally a good thing: you can’t tackle deeper concepts if you dwell on the simpler ones. But teaching these basic concepts to my son, and really having to explain them using even simpler concepts, has forced my mind to slow and focus on them. It has been good for my soul; I have found my heart being lifted by the joy of God’s love for us, and I have found myself choked up talking about the gravity of what He has done through His son, Jesus.