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How to comfort children who are angry with God
Friday, August 30, 2019, 19:43 (IST)
Are you sometimes shocked when children question your theological thinking? There's nothing like a child for finding the theological cracks in our neatly thought out ideas. Children will not let you sweep the difficult bits under the carpet! I for one am deeply thankful when children dare to question and wrestle with faith for themselves, because questioning is healthy and helps children, and adults for that matter, to own their faith.
The question of suffering is a case in point. With so much suffering in the world at the moment, there will be children wrestling with this subject, plus other children who are in the middle of their own crisis.
I've spoken many times on the subject of how children view suffering and God, and as a result have had a lot of 'theology', or rather 'thugology' thrown back at me. Some people have expressed surprise that I needed this subject 'explaining' to me and set about 'correcting' my theology in a somewhat patronising tone!
I was questioning how we support children who are suffering, as I felt they needed more than just a theological thesis on what had happened to them.
I knew we shouldn't just be saying "this is the theological answer - lump it", but rather, giving space and permission for anger and grief, whilst providing a safe place to ask questions of us and God.
I sometimes refer to the angry conversations I personally have with God about things, just like some of the psalmists do. But this is usually greeted with responses such as, "Until I accept that these things are God's will, I will have no peace..." (I was quite peaceful until you gave that response thank you!)
I have a firm faith and am annoyed with these comments - so just think how a questioning child would feel.
I have seen the faith of too many children smashed to pieces because of this 'thugology' pressed on them when they were at their most vulnerable.
To tell a child who has just lost their mother that they should be happy for their mother because they are in heaven is crass beyond words, but I've heard it said. The same child was told within days of losing her that their mother's death was God's will.
Ok, that might be your theology, but please don't say it to a child whose mother died in a car crash just days before. To a child in need of love and comfort, this speaks of a God who doesn't care and rips special people from them on a whim.
I once had a 7 year old girl in my small group. She was a Christian, but struggling with coming to terms with some horrible stuff. I will never forget her screaming at me, "I don't want Jesus in my heart any more, I hate Him, I hate Him," and then grabbing at her chest repeatedly as though she could pull Jesus out. I held her whilst she sobbed, cried with her and said nothing at that point.
There is a time when we have to stop trying to explain God's 'motives' and just hold the child, crying with them instead. To allow space for them to shout their despair and hurl their questions as angrily and loudly as they want is good. And we need not be afraid to admit that we don't understand either.
Our role is to help children to hold on to God in the middle of their crisis, and help them to find God in the depths of their pain. Before we say anything, they need to know that God still loves them.
It's good to share your own story with children. Not to say you understand, because you can't. Tell it so they can know they are not alone, and they can talk to you.
I am not a professional counsellor, but I'm often the first contact for a child in crisis. I will always suggest counselling to their grown-ups, but I am also aware that my initial response to the child is key to gaining their trust for the future and for others who will step into their lives to support them.
I'm not saying we shouldn't wrestle with the theology of suffering. I'm asking that we wrestle wisely as we support children in crisis.
There isn't a simple answer. But there is love.