Recently I received an email from a parent seeking advice in responding to a child’s questions about God, life, death and faith.

With the parent’s permission, here is the question followed by my response:

Hello there Pastor Christopher!

I need some advice….our youngest is always asking me “where is God? I can’t see him!” “I want to see him.” It is so cute but I feel as I grasp for answers such as “we can’t see him but he is with us, he sees us, he lives in our hearts, he lives all around us….,etc…” Is there a good way to approach the divine goodness that is God in a way that makes some sense to a 2 1/2 year old? Any tips would be super. I am so thrilled he is asking and interested. Would actually love any tips on explaining life, death, heaven to his siblings as well. They have many questions as they lost two family members close to us all in the past few years. Sincerely…

(Here is my response):

Hi… Wow! such great and important questions.

I’m afraid my initial response may not seem entirely satisfying.

The first thing I would say is that answers are less important than questions.

The most important thing is to encourage children to keep asking questions. I would say things like, “Wow that is such a great question.” “It is so important to ask questions like that.” “What do you think?” “How might we look for an answer to your question?” “Is there anything in your heart that feels like an answer?”

It is important not to feel insecure about children’s questions and our inability to provide perfect answers. The greatest gift we can give a child is our confidence that unanswerable questions are not bigger than God. We need to allow children to see that we can sit with questions and not be frightened by the fact that we cannot wrap everything up in elegant intellectual packages.

It may be important at times simply to say, “You know, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I believe God knows the answer and our job is to trust God’s love and live in ways that are loving even when we don’t understand.” Be authentic. Do not pretend to have a knowledge you know you do not possess.

I don’t think children are primarily looking for answers. They are looking for reassurance that it is ok to explore, to question, to discover. And those are skills that will help their faith grow in the future much more than neat tidy  answers. Any answer we give today will eventually be challenged and probably found inadequate.

What your son really wants is your presence, much more than a solution to the mysteries of life. He wants to know that he is heard, that you are there for him, open and willing to pay attention.

While I am cautious about answers, I would always head in the direction of love in responding to a child’s questions. I am pretty sure your child will relate to the reality of the love he feels but cannot see.

Similarly with life and death – I think it is clear to a child that the love they feel for their parents, or experience from their parents, does not go away when something in the external world changes. They understand that love is permanent; it doesn’t stop just because they do something that might not be approved or because things don’t turn out the way they had hoped. It is not a great leap to appreciate that love goes on even when we can’t see the person we love. Love comes to us in bodies but does not depend upon a body.

As a Christian, I would also speak about Jesus to a child who asks deep questions. I would point to Jesus welcoming people into his life and suggest that Jesus is a picture of God. I would say that, when we look at Jesus, we can see who God is and, when we listen to Jesus in our hearts, we find his love.

Jesus taught that, in the end, the most important thing is what we DO much more than what we say.

The love you demonstrate for your child, your faithfulness, steadiness, gentleness, and kindness all speak to him about the nature of God. Your open accepting presence in your child’s life will help him find and trust that place in his heart that is deeper than answers. Here he will come to experience the steady presence of the God who exists beyond all that we cannot know.

A major part of parenting is helping children trust the inner wisdom and truth that is in their lives. Guidance can be helpful. But they do not need external experts to answer their questions. They need to be deeply rooted in the truth they do know. If we are to help them to find this truth in themselves, we must trust that it is there to be found.

The final thing I think it is important to remember is that you cannot do this alone. Children need to be around other adults and children who seek to live in faith. Things become more real when we hear them from more than one direction. So, the more children are around other people who seem to take seriously the idea of an invisible realm that is real and important, the more their commitment to that reality will deepen and grow.

Hope this is helpful. Blessings, Christopher