You never know where or when, but plan on it. One night I got myself ready with my daughter for tuck in time that for us always includes Bible reading and prayer. What I got was a question that I wasn’t expecting.
“Dad…[awkward pause]…how do we know that God is real and not made up like other gods or like the false idols that people worshipped in the Bible?”
By the look on her face I knew that question hadn’t come easy. I asked why she looked so worried and received confirmation that she hesitated for fear that I would be angry that she would ever ask such a thing. Before I even began I knew that the first words from my mouth needed to reinforce what all parents should instil in their children: there are no questions that cannot be asked.
With that out of the way, my mind now raced to answer this deep and profound question that was percolating in her 8 year old mind . How do we know that God is real and not “made up”?
“Knowing” vs. “Believing”
If I am honest, a lot of the teaching I received growing up centred on what Christians were supposed to believe. Doubts about God’s existence weren’t really talked about because…well…how could we doubt if we really believed? But if we stop at belief alone, it quickly becomes apparent that something is missing, and questions like that of my daughter nag at us, demanding a fair hearing. So, what do we do? Well, first we need to understand something vitally important: true faith isn’t opposed to knowledge, it is grounded in it. Faith in God then isn’t simply belief conjured by sheer power of will despite what we know to the contrary, but is a commitment to live as though God is true because we have come to know in fact that he is true. This is why Paul describes salvation in Christ as having “come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), and why Jesus himself described eternal life as “knowing God”. (Jn. 17:3)
So How Do We Know?
My daughter’s question then, far from a problem for faith was in fact the natural response to faith that any believer in Jesus Christ should encounter. Now that I believe, how is it that I can know what I believe? This is an important question for any Christian to address, and is focus for us here at Prepared to Answer. The immediate issue for parents, however is how to do so in a simple way that kids can understand. Here are the three simple answers I gave my daughter.
1. “We know that God is real because he is an actual person who we can know.”
I first reminded my daughter what Jesus told his disciples in John 14:17-19 when he promised to send his Holy Spirit; that He (Jesus) would come to them. In this case, I was not simply reinforcing her need to “believe” yet again what the Bible says, but to understand and “know” what it was teaching. If Jesus has indeed come to us by his Spirit, then I know he is real because he really lives within me. This, in fact, is the primary way that we do know God is real: “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 Jn. 3:24)
This is an important first step for kids (and adults too). Before we ever get into discussions about evidence from Creation or science or logic or anything, we need to direct their minds to knowing God according to the kind of knowledge that is appropriate to Him. We do not come to know other people by way of science or any of those other means, so why would we expect to know God that way. What is helpful to reinforce in our children’s minds is the fact that God is a person, so the way we know he is real (and grow in our knowledge of Him) is the same way we know other people are real; by relating to them. Now my daughter’s immediate response to this showed me that she was thinking: “But I can’t see God”. “That’s true”, I affirmed, “but that is because God doesn’t have a body the way that we do, and so the way we relate to him as a person is different, and that is why he has given us his Holy Spirit to help.” I then opened her Bible to Romans 8:16 and read: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” So you see, while God doesn’t just come up and talk to us the way other people do, he does in fact speak into our hearts. This is the reason why prayer is so important. Because I truly want my daughter to know God, I want her focusing her attention on the one place where he makes his reality to us most known; the interior life of the spirit. To quote John again: “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 Jn. 4:13) How vital it is as parents then that we disciple our children into the knowledge of God by regularly going with them into the presence of God through prayer. We are in effect teaching them, by way of apprenticeship, to practice the presence of God.
2. “God has made himself knowable through the Bible.”
The next question my daughter asked was: “but how do we know that the Bible is true? Couldn’t someone have just made it up?” This is one of the most common doubts about Christianity and something that the world wants people to believe. (Does anyone remember the Da Vinci Code?) Parents need to be ready with a simple answer. Here are some quick points I made that you should know, but don’t settle for the quick points yourself. Start doing some study on this too.
- The first books of the Bible were written around 1300 B.C. The final book (Revelation) was written around 90 A.D. That’s almost 1400 years over which its contents were written.
- In addition, there were approx. 40 different authors who contributed to it whose lives were spread right across those 1400 years, and all over the map, from Egypt to Israel to Rome.
- Not only did these authors live during different times and in different countries, but they themselves were as different from one another as people can be. From farmers to kings and everything in between. Some were Jews, and some were Gentiles. Some spoke Hebrew, others spoke Aramaic or Greek.
Despite all of the time, people and differences behind the writings in the Bible, it all fits together to tell a single unifying story about Jesus Christ. The only way this book could ever have been produced into what we have today in our Bibles is if God directed and oversaw the whole thing. It is unlike any other book ever written.
3. “God has shown himself to us through Creation.”
The last thing I did was open my daughter’s Bible again to Psalm 19 and had her read out loud the first two verses which say:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
Since my daughter is an artist, I decided to explain these verses this way. What the Bible is telling us is that when we look at the world around us, we are seeing the work of an amazing artist. Now, who would ever look at a beautiful painting and question whether the artist existed or not? What is more, I explained that when I look at her artwork, I learn a lot about her. I learn what kinds of things she likes, what her interests are and how she views the world around her. Well, the same is true when we look at Creation. When we see it, its very existence tells us a Creator must be there. When we observe its beauty, complexity and grandeur, we learn about God’s creativity, power, intelligence and his love of beauty. Obviously there is further discussion to be had, and there are those who will “suppress” the truth of what Creation tells us (cf. Romans 1:18-21), but for our kids this is a powerful point to make. They still possess the unfettered capacity to see the world for what it really is: an obvious testament to the power and glory of God. God’s made it to be that, so help them to see it that way.
Take Time For Questions
More than anything I am jealous for the minds of my children. They are like sponges quickly absorbing everything they come into contact with. As parents we play an irreplaceable role in forming our children’s minds for Christ, and we often have to do so on the fly while life is happening. Prepared to Answer wants to help you be prepared for such teachable moments, but make sure you are making the time for them to happen. Pray daily for your children’s minds; equip yourself to be ready for those “biggy” questions that need much more than pat answers; and ask God for wisdom, knowing that he “gives generously to all without finding fault”. (James 1:5)