Wednesday, May 4, 2011

how do kids understand who God is? - a question for you

One of the best things about blogging is the great questions people ask.

A mum from Tasmania read my post about 4-year-old Andy's conversations about God. She passed on this question from a friend:

'But how do kids learn about God? How do they understand who he is?'
What do you think? Can you help me answer her?

Just click here.


Gordon Cheng said...

I reckon the main problem is that we see understanding of God as a matter of comprehension rather than repentance.

If comprehension is the issue, then not only do children have a problem but so do grown-ups. Who is God? How may he be known? What does it mean to follow him? The answers to those questions fall into the category of either

(a) impossible to answer satisfactorily for anyone operating with a human mind, which would be most of us.

(b) easy to comprehend but impossible to accept on account of our status as individuals dead in our sins.

Once we realize that the real issue is sin, and that the only way to overcome this is by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the resurrection of Christ, then the answer becomes 'by grace'—with the only proviso being that we make sure that we are using simple words that little kids can understand, like 'dad', 'God is the boss', 'sin' 'I'm sorry' and 'you're forgiven'.

Jean said...

Thanks, Gordo, a very helpful and comprehensive answer!

Any ideas how to lead kids towards repentance (besides prayer and using, as you say, simple words)?

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi Jean,

Prayer and simple words and a good dose of the law, rightly applied.

I don't mean being the sort of parent who berates, criticizes and embitters (guilty!), but the sort of parent who sees law as an expression of grace—as it really is—but insufficient to bring about righteousness.

Knowledge of law produces knowledge of sin; the best law goes beyond that and points us to Christ.

The laws that underlie all laws are the 2 about loving God and loving neighbour. If we live by those laws, and confess our failings,and acknowledge the rightness of punishment, and teach our children those laws (together with the rightness of punishment) then we will be doing well.

Speaking off the top of my head. I'm sure other commenters will be able to do better than that!

Jean said...

Hi Gordo,

I've just been watching an interview with you in which you talk about issues of spiritual parenting and grandparenting, and what it's like being a parent and an MTS trainer...very odd to turn on the internet during a work break and find you commenting on parenting over here... :)


mattnbec said...

How do kids learn about God and understand who he is?

I wonder if we sometimes forget that (humanly speaking - I reckon Gordon's point about sin and the gracious work of the Spirit is critical) children learn from watching us and how we live. Children are concrete, experiential learners. They learn by demonstration and participation. Eg Kids understand the need to repent and ask forgiveness as we show them and teach them to do this in practice. As they learn to apologise, forgive and learn to forgive, they learn about their own sin and we can extrapolate to God's forgiveness. They learn about the love, discipline and grace of God as a father as we parent them with love, discipline and grace and they live as our children.

I think that's more than just mimicking - that's active learning. Humanly speaking, I wonder if that's partly why the children of Christians are more likely to follow Jesus themselves.

And further, actually, I think none of us would understand who God is and how he works if God hadn't provided human relationships like marriage, families etc to us as models of the spiritual reality of our marriage with Christ, what it means to be a part of God's family and so on.


Jean said...

Thanks, Bec, great point! Interestingly, it was the answer the mum from Tasmania made to her friend - see comments here.

mattnbec said...

Hi again,

Upon reflection, I guess our answers could be similar. I guess initially, I read the answer she gave as more that children mimic their parents and grow into understanding as they grow cognitively - so that they start doing it and understand what they're doing as they grow up.

My point was that, further than that, children (and adults) come to understand Christian concepts as they see them enacted - our good works both explain the concepts that we teach and give them a sense of them before they're even cognitively able to 'get it'. I think that's more than mimicking (although I don't doubt that there is that element in children's behaviour too). And that God gave marriage and family as reflections of and as means to understand spiritual truths. I seem to recall Calvin talks about this somewhere (sorry to be vague about the reference!). So our lives and actions both model in the sense of 'do what I do' and also in the sense of 'this is what it means'.

Does that clarify what I'm trying to say? Or perhaps we were actually saying the same thing all along...


Jean said...

I think I'm gettting it, Bec.

You're saying that our lives teach our kids in 2 ways:

- as an example of how to live as a Christian, how to pray etc for them to imitate

- as a lived embodiment of truth (even if they can't understand a verbal explanation of something e.g. the marriage of Christ and the church, they see it lived out in front of them)

Is that right?

An interesting idea, and not one I've thought about in relation to kids before. Thanks, Bec.

Jean said...

ps I think some of my confusion stems from the fact that some of your examples sound more to like imitation - e.g. they learn to forgive by seeing it done and practising it; others, more like enactment - e.g. God's fatherhood or the divine marriage mirrored in the human models God has given them and us.

Or are there 3 things here:

1. imitation
2. embodying truth and thus communicating it through a concrete, lived example - e.g. grace, forgiveness
3. a human "type" of a divine reality e.g. marriage, fatherhood

I am grasping towards something here and not quite getting it.

mattnbec said...

Hi Jean,

Hoping this gets through - for some reason when I left a response a few days ago, blogger refused to co-operate.

I think I'm grasping towards something too! I'm trying to communicate a sense I have rather than a well thought through theology of parenting and I suspect it shows. I think you're helping me clarify myself and I think you're getting it though - well done!

I think there are three things, but I think I struggle to separate points two and three, as you put them. I think that's because the embodied truths (your point 2) are part of parenting in practice. And actually, types are embodied concepts anyway, aren't they? See what I mean about still thinking it through? ;-)

Essentially, I started with the thought that God gives us marriage and family to help us to understand the relationship between Christ and the church, and our adoption into his family. Like adults, children learn like this. But in a similar way, grace, forgiveness etc are concepts that we all understand as we see them acted out. In living that way, our actions reflect God's and so our children come to understand God's character as they see us act like that.

Of course, in saying this I'm not wanting to downplay the role of instruction! Without active teaching, it all falls apart. But I am aware that from a kind of educational perspective, concrete examples help us to understand conceptual things, like grace or forgiveness.

I wonder if this is one of those things that would be much easier if we were talking face-to-face!

love Bec

Jean said...

It's been a great discussion and has put some new ideas in my head. Thanks, Bec. Tell me if any more clarifications occur to you.

Talking face to face sounds wonderful *sigh* ... ah well, heaven will be all the better!