I recently had a friend who told me about her daughter asking a question about why an eternal God created a mortal world. I shared with him questions my own daughters had sometimes raised, such as how God can be sovereign and still give people free will. Most parents receive questions like these from children at some point. How we answer them can make the difference in how your children perceive truth, God, and our relationship to Him. It is critical that we know how to answer deep questions.
All children ask deep questions at some point, such as about the character of God, if Jesus is the Son of God, the nature of free will and predestination, the reason for certain doctrines, what is sin, etc. Sometimes they come out randomly as the result of something they hear at school, at church, or just talking to friends. Many times, my daughter’s questions came as a result of watching a movie or television. When she watched The Incredibles, she asked if everyone has a superpower? When she watched the post-apocalyptic show, “The 100,” she asked why teenagers acted the way they did. When she watched the Hitchcock movie, Rope, she asked why some people believed there should not be moral restraints. Sometimes, I would introduce a movie or show specifically to raise certain questions so we could discuss it. Most of the time, it just sort of happened when I least expected it.
The question most parents usually ask is, what should I do when my children ask such deep questions? The thing you shouldn’t do is to tell them you don’t care or have time or that they should just shut up with their questions. You’ve been given a great opportunity to share your views about the most important questions in the universe, about philosophy, theology, or wisdom. Shutting down your children at this moment will have lasting consequences. First, it teaches them that the nature of life and reality are unimportant to you and that it ought to be unimportant to them. Second, it teaches them that if they want answers to deep questions, they will have to go somewhere else, and that usually means either a friend (who may not have very good answers) or another authority figure, such as a religious leader (with whom you may not agree). You should always be willing to answer their questions; that’s the way most people learn.
The best thing to do is to provide an honest answer if you can. By honest, I mean what you actually think and not simply what you think your spouse would say or what your religion teaches. The problem is that many people don’t have an opinion or have problems expressing their views. If you don’t have an opinion about deep questions, perhaps it would be worth your time to give some thought about them in advance. A man I greatly respect once told me that everyone should know enough about whatever they believe to defend it. If you haven’t done so, children can force you to take stock of your faith. If you don’t know why you believe something, it would be worthwhile reading up on it, especially if you know a question is coming. You ought to explore different views or talk to pastors or teachers. If something unexpected comes up, it’s okay to say that you haven’t thought about it or that you need time to think about it. Spend a few minutes considering the answer or do some research and get back with them. This gives you a chance to have multiple conversations about these deep subjects.
If you have problems expressing your opinion – and many people do – you can do the same thing. You can research it or talk to someone about it, so that you get your answer right. I don’t mean memorizing someone else’s answers but trying to get enough of an understanding about an issue to be able to talk through it. If the situation demands an immediate answer, and you don’t have time to brush up on the subject, it’s okay to stumble through what you want to say. Your children are looking for your honest views however delivered, not an eloquent exposition on the subject. Just getting out your views helps them to understand where you’re coming from. If you need more information, you can google questions on the fly to provide them with references or to inject the views of someone they respect.
It’s also okay to get their help. A lot of parents ask their children questions first. This is called the Socratic method. Socrates believed the best way of teaching was to question something. Sometimes asking questions helps you know what your children are looking for, or it may help you in using terminology they understand. Sometimes you may agree with how they answer it. Sometimes it helps you to frame your answer based on what they already think, using their views as a sounding board. You can ask what their friends think, and this may help you see whether they are under peer pressure. You can ask follow-up questions to find out why they are asking or to get clarification about different aspects of a question. This helps to broaden the discussion and can clue you in more specifically about what the real issue is so you will be able to answer it better. You end up learning a lot about your child simply by having a conversation.
The Bible says that we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the hope within us. This is good advice whether you believe the Bible or not. You should always be able to talk about deep questions, especially with children. They are going to ask, so you might as well be prepared. Rather than shutting them down or sending them to someone else, take this special opportunity to answer their questions. It might be the best opportunity you have to get to know and influence your child.
© 2022 J.D. Manders