The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important teachings of the Christian faith, and yet admittedly one of the most difficult to understand, especially for kids. Nothing caused me more trepidation during nightly bible reading with my kids than beginning to explain to them how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all God yet different persons. My approach was prayerful, slow but steady.
I’d like to say that I have done it all right, but that would be a lie. I have tried however, to teach my children thoughtfully and accurately about God. No more has this been a challenge than when it comes to teaching them the Doctrine of the Trinity. What follows is not necessarily a formula, but just the approach I muddled through. My hope is that it might provide you with some help and confidence to not shy away from tackling this essential Christian truth with your own kids.
Start with “Just the Facts”:
When my kids were very young my wife and I made a point of daily bible reading (or at least bible stories). When we came to the stories about Jesus, and in particular his death and resurrection, we necessarily bumped up against the doctrine of the Trinity in explaining why Jesus had to die and how his death could pay for our sins. But in those early stages we just made the priority of teaching them THAT God sent his Son to die for our sins. In other words, “Just the facts”. That God’s love was demonstrated for them in sending His own Son to die for their sins was enough. Even in those early years they can comprehend that God’s love for them is pretty big for such a sacrifice.
Wait For the Cues:
My daughter was around 4, and my son around 5 when they started connecting dots that required further explanation. Each child’s mind develops differently, so my wife and I found it best to let them cue us with their questions. As we read their Bible stories about Jesus, it soon became necessary to explain that everything Jesus did and accomplished he did because he was God. I can still remember my son’s response: “So, Jesus is God?” I could almost smell the smoke coming from the wheels spinning in his head. It became further complicated when teaching them about the Holy Spirit, and how trusting in Jesus meant that God now lived inside our hearts. “But how can Jesus be in heaven and in my heart too?” Kids are so smart!
At this point, it became necessary to explain to them that while God is ONE God, he exists as THREE persons. We call this the Trinity. The word itself is never used in the Bible, but the Bible clearly teaches that:
God is Father: Genesis 1:1 presents God as the Creator of heaven and earth, after which the whole Bible affirms that God the Father is the sovereign Lord over all of the universe.
God is Son: John 1:1-4 clearly teaches that Jesus (the Word) was “with God” from the very beginning, and “was God”. That “all things where made through him…In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
God is Holy Spirit: Jesus affirms the Trinity in Matthew 28:19 when he commissions his disciples to “go and make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And yet…there is One God: One of the first scriptures the Jews would teach their children was Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
So there are three things I want to affirm for my kids at this point.
1. God is three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit
2. Each person is fully God.
3. There is one God.
Make it Clear, But Don’t Try to Remove the Mystery:
In the history of the church no one has been able to completely explain the Trinity. God as God cannot be fully explained because the finite (us) cannot fully grasp the infinite (God). That said, I want my children to grasp the mystery of the Trinity without concluding that “mystery” implies “irrational” or “contradictory”. Often skeptics scoff that the claim that God is ONE and THREE is a contradiction. But this is only true if the doctrine of the Trinity claims that God is ONE and THREE in the same sense, which it doesn’t. God is not ONE person and THREE persons; nor is he ONE God and THREE Gods. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is ONE God in THREE persons, and even this I can explain to my child.
One night when my son asked how God can be THREE but only ONE, I responded this way: “When God made you and me, he made us to be ONE human being living as ONE person. A human being is WHAT we are (i.e. our being), but a person is WHO we are. But God isn’t like us. There is no one else like God, and one of the biggest differences about God and us is that while we exist as ONE human being living as ONE person, he exists as ONE God living in THREE persons. The THREE persons are all different, (so the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit), and yet all THREE persons are fully GOD. (That is, each person fully possesses the being or nature or essence of GOD). That’s one of the ways that God is completely different from us. While we exist as only one person, he exists as three. I can’t fully explain it, but that’s because God is so awesome that I can’t fully understand everything about him.”
Now, that’s not what I said word for word but that was the gist of it. I didn’t solve all the questions, but sought to explain the doctrine of the Trinity as simply and as faithfully to scripture that I could. The rest I leave up to the Holy Spirit while I anticipate the future questions and doubts that may arise.
If you are raising young kids or even youth, don’t leave it up to your church teachers or pastors to teach them these essential truths, although certainly look for their help. Since working through this with my own kids I came across a series of 10 children’s books written by Dr. William Lane Craig called “What Is God Like”. It includes one book called: “God is Three Persons” and presents avery clear explanation of the Trinity for Kids. I’d highly recommend it and the whole series to you.