When Your Child Questions God’s Existence

I panicked inside.  I had just finished reading my kids (ages 9 and 8) a bedtime story out of a history book.  We were talking about the main characters for that night’s chapter, Copernicus and Galileo, both devout Catholics who had to unwillingly defy the church in order to publish their discoveries about the universe that they knew were correct.

“What do you think?”, I had asked them.  “They were right,” my son and daughter replied together, referring to the astronomers.

“But do you think it takes away any of God’s power or glory if the earth is not the center of the universe?  That’s what the church was afraid of”, I pushed further.  “No,” said my daughter, “God is still the creator; He still made everything, even if the earth is not in the middle of it all.”

I never could have predicted the next thing that was said.  It came form my son, who was deep in contemplation – about physics and astronomy, or so I thought.

i dont know if god is real“I don’t know if God is real,” he said.  He’s 9.  Such honesty.  Such genuine, pure, honest thought, verbalized.  No pretense.  No past animosity towards the church, or legalism, or religion, or any of the other things that people wrongly blame God for.  Just pure, honest doubt.  But for a moment, I panicked on the inside.

In the span of 2 seconds, I had a million thoughts: “Oh no!  Don’t push him.  What do I do?  This isn’t a moment for formal apologetics.  How do I respond?!  Don’t contradict him.  Where did this come from?  Don’t shame him.  What do I say!?  Don’t theologize.  How do I convince him?  Don’t try to convince him of anything…  Just be genuine and honest back to him, as he has been honest and real with you in this moment.

After a brief pause, I softly replied, “I know He’s real.  He’s answered my prayers in ways that were too perfect to be coincidence.  He’s given me impressions of things, then confirmed them as only an all-knowing, everywhere-God could.  His Spirit has comforted me when I was afraid, or alone, or tempted, or sad–”

“I know He’s real,” my daughter jumped in.  She’s 8.  “He’s there, even if I can’t see Him.”  Such honesty.  Such genuine, pure, honest thought, verbalized.  No pretense.  No rote regurgitation of Sunday school answers.  Just pure, honest, real faith.

My 4-year-old walked in to join us, and the conversation shifted organically to other things.  I didn’t want to force it tonight.  Or maybe ever?

I want my kids to have faith in God.  Deep, genuine trust in Him.  I’ve prayed it for them since before they were born: “Lord, help them to know You, to love you, and to live for You, all the days of their lives” is a prayer I have prayed for them hundreds of times.  “May their faith be 100 times my own; may they stand on my shoulders; may my ceiling be their floor.”  My greatest hope for them is a life of secure, confident faith in and devotion to God.

“It’s good for him to wrestle with these things now,” Dianna said to me later.  I had told her about my conversation with the kids later that same night.  “We can be asking God to reveal Himself to our kids in ways that only He can.”  She’s so wise.  So, so wise.

For where is true, genuine faith going to come from if not from Him?  We will teach our kids the Truth; we will share our own experiences of faith with them; we will live our own lives of both highs and lows – both our victories and failures – of following Jesus before them; we will give our kids opportunities to see the work of God in the world first-hand.  But in the end, it is God who draws them, and it is they who will choose to believe or not.  It cannot be forced.  It cannot be guaranteed.  Parenting is a tremendous act of faith.

I stayed up late praying that night: “But God, he is SUCH a good kid…  such, such, such a good kid…  Really.  I know every parent thinks that, but Lord, he really, really is…”

My throat tightened.

Oh no.

Oh God…  what if all I do is raise “good” kids?!  Do I want good kids, or do I want faith-filled kids?  Do I want polite kids, or do I want Spirit-led world-changers?  Do I want well-behaved kids, or kids who know and love Jesus with all their hearts and minds?  I know we don’t have to choose – we can have both – but have I focused more on behavior and conduct than on faith and recognizing the fingerprints of God all throughout my kids’ world?

Oh Father, as our kids wrestle with doubt, please meet them there, as only You can.  Let them find You in the silence, in the questioning, in the confusion.  Let their doubts drive them to You, not from You.  May these doubts awaken a true hunger in them for You that my daily devotions never could.  And may they emerge, Lord, with a faith 100 times stronger than my own.  May they stand on my shoulders, spiritually, and develop a closeness with You that I’ve only dreamt of.  May the ceiling of my faith be their floor.

These are Your kids, God, even more than they are mine.  I have entrusted them to You in prayer many, many times.  Somehow, tonight feels even more real.  They are Yours, Lord – truly Yours.

Please help me to do everything I can, with whatever earthly and spiritual authority I have from You, to lead them to You.  To show them You’re real.  Not with apologetics and persuasive arguments, but by giving them regular, real opportunities to see You at work, and by helping them to identify Your fingerprints all over their/our world.

Wow, God!, parenting is a serious faith endeavor, and I am awakened to a whole new level of it tonight.  Please help me and Dianna to parent faithfully, unto You.  And Lord, I do ask that You draw our kids unto Yourself in sincere faith, and that You would meet them in their doubts, as only You can.

May they know You.  Love You.  And live for You.  All the days of their lives.  In Jesus’ Name.

3 responses to “When Your Child Questions God’s Existence

  1. Nick – the best thing i’ve ever heard in response to doubt came from the man David most respects currently living on the earth – and gosh it was so simple. Whenever someone expresses doubt about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, Phil just says, “Well, Jesus Christ is His own best witness. If you want to know if He’s real, just ask Him!” Whoa. What a bold, faith-filled, scary statement. It’s all off of us, our experience, our artillery, and totally on God. And yet, Phil has yet to have a person who actually did as he suggested come back disappointed. Wild, huh?
    i love your boys’ honesty, and i love that he feels safe enough in the love of his dad, A Christ-following MISSIONARY!?!?, to come out with the truth. Praise God that he doesn’t feel the weight of his life situation – missionary kid on a boat that exists to serve God by serving people – that might otherwise shame him into silent wrestling. Praise the Lord.

    • Thank you, Gina. And I am encouraged to hear this advice, as I have used it myself with others, and now with my own son. The very best place to take our doubts about God is to God Himself, just as King David did all throughout his Psalms!

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