Some of my best conversations with my five year old happen when I’m putting her to bed at night. When it’s time to sleep, her mind starts swirling with theological questions and conundrums. She’s a lot like me in that way.
Some questions are easy to answer, like “Can God hear us when we pray?” Others are more challenging, like “If God doesn’t have a body, how is He alive?” The childlike curiosity behind some of her inquiries amuses me, like “Did Jesus poop?”
Each question is remarkably significant, and I encourage her to keep asking them. They’re questions about the nature of God and how we relate to Him. The answers are life-changing. But responding to big theological questions from little children can be daunting. So let me put your mind at ease: you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to press into these sacred moments. And you don’t have to know all the answers to guide children to the truth. If you are in Christ you have access to the truth of God in the Bible and the Holy Spirit within you to help you understand and communicate it. As you navigate a lifetime of questions, remember these four principles:
#1 Tell the Truth
I want to shield my kids from the evil realities of sin and death, and it can feel easier to provide a sterilized response—or none at all—to their heaviest questions. But keeping our children in the dark is not protecting them. Telling our kids about death and judgment for sin can be uncomfortable, but they are sinners too, and they desperately need the gospel. To shield them from the truth about sin is to prevent them from hearing the good news of the one who gave His life to pay for it.
Telling the truth also means grounding our responses in the Word of truth. I make a practice of saying “God tells us in the Bible that . . .” Formulating our responses in this way teaches our children that the Bible is the authority on truth, it models going to Scripture with our questions, and it keeps us accountable to ensure we are truthful.
#2 Use Simple Language
We shouldn’t shy away from teaching kids big truths about God, but it’s important to explain complex concepts using language children can understand. Words like “sin” or “sanctification” sound like a foreign language to kids—until we talk through them. Explain that we sin when we disobey God and treat others in a way that is not loving and kind. Introduce the terminology, for sure, but keep explaining the concept as often as you can. Explain that Jesus helps us to obey and makes us more and more like Him, and then tell them that’s called sanctification.
Explaining Scripture for children or new believers is modeled in the Bible. When the Israelites heard God’s Word read aloud after being exiled in the book of Nehemiah, the Levites “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:7b-8). Paul preached the gospel to the Greeks in Athens by using examples from their own culture (Acts 17). Jesus himself explained His parables to His disciples to help them understand.
#3 Maintain the Mystery
There is much about God that even Bible scholars cannot understand. God is incomprehensible, which means although we can know Him, we can never know or understand everything about Him. And so we need to maintain the mystery for our children as well.
My daughter can become frustrated when my answers to her questions don’t make sense to her. We can assure kids that it’s okay to not understand. Remind them that God is so big and so powerful and so amazing that we can’t possibly understand everything about Him. He’s not like us, and that’s a good thing. So don’t try to eliminate the confusion. Instead, model the humility, awe, and joy that comes from knowing God is greater than we can ever imagine.
Sometimes it’s not that the answer is too complicated, but that we simply don’t know it. When those little faces look up at us with questions, it can be scary to think we might let them down if we can’t give an answer. In these moments—and they will come frequently—we must be okay with “I don’t know” too. It’s good for our kids to see the humility to admit when we don’t know and to see us running to God’s Word for help. So take them there—“I don’t know, but let’s see if we can find out together.”
#4 Never Stop Teaching
Kids’ questions are gifts, but they’re unlikely to come if you aren’t talking about these things already. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, God instructs His people that “…these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Based on this verse, we implement three categories of biblical discipleship in our home.
One category is structured discipleship time. For our family, this means reading a story from a children’s Bible, practicing a catechism question, working on Scripture memory, and praying together every morning. If you have elementary grade kids, I highly recommend Kaleidoscope, which creates retellings of full books of the Bible in chapter book form with language kids can understand. I wrote a book for Kaleidoscope called A Hero for Villains, which is a retelling of the book of Romans. Romans is packed full of theological concepts, and this book would be a great way to start having those conversations with your kids.
The second category is daily rhythms. Things like prayer at mealtime and bedtime, or reciting Psalm 118:24 in the car and Psalm 4:8 before bed become part of the fabric of our family.
The first two categories set the foundation for the third, which is everyday moments. When we see a beautiful sunset, I say, “Wow look at the beautiful sky God made! Think of how much more amazing He must be!” When my children are disobeying, we remind them that they obey God by obeying their parents. When they are afraid, we pray with them and ask God to help them be brave because God is with them. Directing our children to the Lord takes practice. It requires that we are regularly in God’s Word ourselves and preaching the gospel to our own hearts. But as we allow our days and conversations to be formed by God’s Word, our children will see that it really does change everything.
So don’t wait until they are old enough to “get it.” The Holy Spirit is the one who opens hearts and minds to understand the truth, and we have the joyful privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the truth to even the tiniest image bearers.
Joanna Kimbrel is a content coordinator for The Gospel Coalition, Bible teacher, and writer with a passion for sharing the beauty of God’s Word with others. She is author of The Greatest Hero: The Book of Romans (Kaleidoscope, October 2022). Joanna and her husband Chad have two daughters and are members of Sojourn Community Church in Woodstock, Georgia. You can follow her on Instagram.