When children ask questions, it can be terrifying or it can be enlightening, but I am not sure which types of questions are which. Children have an innocent way of asking poignant questions. They ask big questions, and they ask small questions, but it is hard to tell which ones are the hardest to answer.
A hand that is raised in the air during a children's Sunday school class breathes hope into the room about the next generation, but if it is the wrong type of question, it breathes fear into the teacher. Riding down the road with a child in the backseat allows a child to look out the window, pondering the mysteries of the world, which can startle a parent who is driving when a profound question is voiced without fair warning. What is it about a child's question that can render us speechless?
Children ask big questions about God. Several years ago, we were talking to our son about God, explaining that God made every person, creature, and beautiful sunset. He did not question what we were saying; he was convinced with little effort, but then his eyes grew wide, and he wondered out loud, "Who made God?" It is in those moments that we feel the limits of our words.
The big questions are overwhelming, but we understand that our minds are not big enough to wrap themselves around the possible answers. Children ask, "Why did God make us?" They wonder, "How big is God?" They inquire, "Does God have a family?" After sitting through worship, they interrupt the drive home by saying, "What does God's voice sound like?" All of which, even the most experienced theologian struggles to answer, so we take great comfort and find deep humility in saying, "I do not know."
We can find solace in that answer, "I do not know." We truly do not know, and it is good not to know, for we can rest in our faith and in the mysteries of God that are beyond our imagination. There are other questions, though, that are more difficult. The big questions about God are no comparison for the small questions about a life of faith.
Children do not sidestep the difficult, challenging, ethical questions of everyday life. These are the questions that are the steepest to answer. We cannot claim, "I do not know." We do have an answer, but we hesitate to answer the question because of how difficult life can become.
When a child, who we love, comes to us with a question about how to treat others, how to handle being treated poorly by others, or how to respond to unfair circumstances, we pause. We pause because we know the best answers are tougher and harder than other answers we could give, and we are not sure how much to challenge our children. We want to alleviate their pain above all else, not instigate it.
The small questions about treating others well or how to deal with poor treatment by others send us to the teachings of Jesus. We can quote the Golden Rule, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you." We can talk about humility, "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." We can talk about bearing one another's burdens or the depth of God's forgiveness, but these answers are harder and tougher.
When children ask questions, the smaller questions about a life of faith are much harder to answer than the bigger questions about God. It is easier to say, "I do not know," than it is to live with hope and compassion. We struggle to answer those questions, but we do well to focus on the answers we do know, rather than the answers we do not know.
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