Tell your children you are sad when they suffer and God probably is sad too.
Christians often ask “Why does God allow so much evil in the world?” and “Why do good people suffer?” There are some pretty good resources out there that attempt to answer these questions and defend God’s creation. I like the book “Letters From A Skeptic” by Gregory and Edward Boyd for tackling these heavy issues. But as a parent I have to break it down for my children.
First of all I think it is better to have faith and be part of a church than to face this world on your own with the attitude that there is no higher power out there caring for your existence. Raising children in a church gives them community and an extended network of multi-generations who care about them. So I am committed to a Christian faith even when I can’t make sense of it.
I enjoyed the book “Miracles From Heaven” by Christy Beam because it detailed the suffering of a child and her mother through a medical battlefield. (A link to the story from the Children’s Hospital’s Point of view.) I absolutely could relate to the experience of visiting countless specialists and being condescended to by highly credentialed doctors. (A blogger discusses the story.) My son suffers with his own illness that puzzles doctors. I won’t go into detail about it because I don’t want to put his business on the world wide web. Some day he will grow up and want his privacy. But if you are a parent with a child who knows his or her way around the maze of a Children’s Hospital, send me a personal message and I will respond. I have learned a lot since I met the first specialist within days of his birth and he is ten now.
Siblings are preoccupied with fairness on the level of your-chocolate-chip-cookie-has-more-chips-than-mine. There is no way to tell children that God is fair when one child is chronically ill and the other is perfectly healthy. Some theologians tell you that God will be fair in the end of it all. That’s fine, but… well have you ever tried to explain to a jealous sibling that his birthday comes next week?
At Sunday School my children are taught to ask God for what they need and trust in the Lord to answer their prayers. In “Miracles From Heaven” a family’s prayers were answered in a way that absolutely makes no sense. (Link to the author’s Facebook page.) We pray when the odds are against us more than 100 to 1 (see Larry Jent’s blog). Still my children wait, as do many Christians, with child-like faith for their prayers to be answered.
Surprisingly my children have never asked me “Why does God…?” Maybe it hasn’t occurred to them to question the way of things because their Dad and I seem so confident and sure of our faith. Our trust in the Lord is undoubted so they can take that for granted. But when they do ask me, I will tell them this:
First of all, no one knows all the answers to all the questions we could think of, but that is okay. We don’t have to understand everything to accept it the way it is. We don’t even have to like it. I have a lot of questions that I would like God to answer and I have some complaints too. But when you suffer, I suffer because I love you so much and I can’t fix everything for you. I believe God feels like I do. God loves you a lot and is sad about not being able to make everything better for you.
Knowing how kids are I will probably repeat that message to their satisfaction dozens of times before they reach their teens. Then we will have deep, theological discussions. Some days they will be satisfied by my ideas and other days they won’t. Then I will be very glad to have a community of faithful people loving and praying for our family.