how can we help our kids' theological interpretation
You asked: How do I talk with my kid about God in light of the recent gun violence?
Your kid asked: Why didn’t God help?
How I wish there was a set of tidy answers to our kids’ questions about the hard things in the world. You and I both know there aren’t, and this is my offering instead.
As we continue to help our kids interpret recent violence theologically, here’s the one big idea I’m unpacking with my kids:
Our country worships lots of things that are not God, and this is where that leads. Because God lets us choose who we trust and choose who we worship, those who choose to worship power can hurt others and cause suffering.
In other words, we’re talking a lot about idolatry. Because we are in a moment very like the world of the Old Testament prophets, where people wonder why God isn’t acting how they want or expect, but what they are actually experiencing is the failure of their idol to deliver its promised protection. It’s painful, and people suffer, and in fact God’s deep and tremendous grief about that suffering is usually the reason the prophet has come. Idolatry always leads to suffering. It always leads to death, because the idols simply do not have the power to give life.
The primary assertion of the Bible is: Yahweh God of Israel can be trusted. Idols cannot. Whether they be idols by the names of the gods of the nations or idols by the name safety, nationalism, personal freedom, or the perfect family.
So the storytellers devote themselves to helping us see that this God is substantively different than anything or anyone a person could trust to protect and provide for them.
The God who speaks a good and ordered world, not like the violence and chaos of the others.
The God who puts Their own image into us all, not like the gods who’s only representative is the king.
The God who shares power with us so we can make the world match their character. Not like the gods who demand service from humanity so they can be comfortable.
The God who stops the arm of Abraham at Isaac’s alter, not like the gods who demand child sacrifice.
The God who gives a law with careful details to protect the vulnerable, not like the gods who care most about the powerful.
The God who sends fire on a soaked altar, not the like gods who ignored the wailing and self-harm of its so-called prophets.
This is the truth about all idols, whether from the Bible or our world today: the way in which they are worshiped always leads to oppression, injustice, and suffering.
If someone trusts Molech to protect and provide for them, to send the rain and make the crops grow, the way in which they worship him is child sacrifice. Thus they will become a society who sacrifices their children.
If someone trusts personal freedom to protect and provide for them, to send the ‘bad guys’ away and make the return on investments grow, the way in which they worship is still child sacrifice. Thus they will become a society who sacrifices their children.
The primary assertion of the Bible is: Yahweh God of Israel can be trusted. Idols cannot.
The primary question of the Bible is: Who will you trust?
Given all this, here’s one sample conversation you might have:
You might say:
I know I’ve told you about the sad news that happened in Texas/New York/Orange County. It can be hard to wonder what God is going to do to help, or why God didn’t act how we’d want. One thing about God: God doesn’t control people. God lets people choose who to trust. God hopes we choose to trust God. But lots of people don’t. They trust other things to take care of them.
What are some things people trust to make everything ok?
Try for a long, varied list: power, money, being the best at something, going to a good school or working for an important company, living in a certain place, etc. Some of the answers are likely good things. You can note how these are things that we can be grateful for, but don’t trust in.
Expand and help think about the implications:
If we trust money, will we have an easy or hard time being generous? Why?
If we trust our own hard work, will we have an easy or hard time sharing our time to help someone or be a good friend?
You might close with:
Since God hopes for the world to work in a way that matches who God is, God feels sad when people choose to trust other things. Trusting those other things, those idols, often has hard, sad, and scary consequences.
I know it’s hard to see it right now, but God is still inviting us to be part of making a world that works like God is, and in the end, that’s the only way the world will be. So those of us who are practicing trusting only God do what we can to love and care for others and bring change that matches God’s character.
It has always been the case that God’s people look foolish for not trusting those idols, or for trusting just God when the world is hard. It’s ok if this doesn’t feel true right now.
Stop and let them respond. Resist the urge to keep talking and see what comes up for them from there.
If this idea is helpful, I also discussed how understanding idolatry can be relevant in an IG LIVE, which you can watch here. It’s about 23 minutes.
For the sake of length, I don’t have a Bible story breakdown today.
May the true, good, and life-giving God give you wisdom and words for your specific, special, and dearly loved child. Amen.
This was so helpful! Thank you so much!
I love that this is for kids and yet this was so helpful for ME and MY faith right now. Thank you for writing this.