A couple of years ago, my husband and I were invited to a dinner party with a few other new parents from our kids’ Christian elementary school. After we worked our way through appetizers and the requisite small talk, the conversation turned to our respective faith backgrounds. One of the moms confessed that, as much as she loved the Lord, she struggled with how to share her faith with her son—so she had enrolled him at a Christian school where others might be able to do a “better job.”
Another mom replied, “Well, I don’t worry too much about it. I just tell my daughter that believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. Some people believe, and some don’t. It’s a matter of faith.”
I glanced over at the mom who said that, ready to laugh with her at the idea of placing God and Santa in the same category.
But she wasn’t laughing.
She had just matter-of-factly shared what she honestly thought was a helpful way of explaining belief in God’s existence to her daughter.
Now, if an atheist had overheard this dinner party conversation, he or she would have delighted in my friend’s comparison of God and Santa because that’s precisely how atheists want us to think . . .
- God and Santa: two entities with no evidence to demonstrate their existence.
- God and Santa: childish beliefs people should outgrow once they understand there’s no evidence to demonstrate their existence.
Without realizing it, this mom was playing right into the hands of atheists. She was talking about God in a way that could actually damage her daughter’s faith eventually, given the types of challenges she’s likely to encounter.
As Christian parents, it’s critical that we understand our job isn’t to just talk about God in any way we can.
How we talk about God matters.
I was reminded of this fact—and my God vs. Santa experience—when I joined a Christian parenting Facebook group recently. Within a couple of days, I saw someone post that her 12-year-old son was suddenly struggling to believe in God and was asking his mom how we know God exists. She asked the group what she should tell him.
Dozens of parents chimed in, but almost all of the answers offered were in the “God and Santa” category—answers that can actually do more harm than good. It was really disheartening.
So today I want to share five kinds of responses I saw—and see often—that we should avoid when our kids ask questions about God’s existence.
5 Answers That Can Do More Harm Than Good
1. (Just) have more faith.
I don’t know if any word today is more misused than “faith.” For example, several people replied something to the effect of, “It just takes faith. Tell him this is what faith is all about.”
This answer implies that even when we don’t think God exists, we just need to somehow summon up enough “faith” (sheer force of will?) to hold on to our beliefs. But that’s not what biblical faith is all about. Biblical faith is trusting in what we have good reason to believe is true—not committing ourselves ever more strongly to a blind leap in the dark with no rational basis.
When we understand that, we can see why it doesn’t make sense to answer a child’s question about God’s existence by telling him or her to just have more faith. Faith comes from the conviction that something or someone is worth trusting. The answer, therefore, isn’t to tell kids to focus on the outcome of conviction—it’s to increase their conviction by giving them solid reasons to believe God exists.
2. (Just) pray.
Many people said that the mom should start praying fervently for her son and tell him he needs to pray as well. I would say that too.
But it should be clear from every part of the Bible that we must pray and take earthly action. Noah didn’t just pray to be saved from the flood; he built an ark. Joshua didn’t just pray to conquer the Canaanites; he marched around Jericho. Paul didn’t just pray that the gentile world would come to know Jesus; he spent the rest of his life on missionary journeys.
So, yes, pray. But don’t stop there. Kids need to learn why there’s good reason to believe there’s actually a God to pray to.
3. That’s (just) the enemy attacking you.
I’ll never forget reading a detailed “About Me” page written by a young man who grew up in a Christian family but eventually lost his faith…and became a vocal atheist. Over and over, he came back to the fact that his family and church didn’t answer the specific questions he had. Instead, they continually reiterated that he was under attack from the enemy and he just needed to mentally fight against his doubts. For a long time, his faith hung on by a thread; he no longer believed in God but told himself that it was only Satan making him think that way. Eventually he gave up and let go of the thread.
As with the first two points, there is certainly truth to the reality of spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” People were quick to point this out to the mom on Facebook.
But the fact that someone may be under spiritual attack doesn’t lessen the need to offer them specific answers to their questions. Offering those answers—in this case, the evidence for God’s existence—actually grounds them in the truth that allows them to withstand spiritual attack.
4. General restatements of Christian belief that don’t address the question asked.
Several of the Facebook responses said something like, “Remind him [the child] that God loves him and Jesus died for him.” Well, yes, God does love him and Jesus did die for him. It certainly never hurts to remind anyone of that. But if a child is asking how we even know God exists in the first place, this kind of statement is unlikely to help him or her through a spiritual crisis.
Another suggestion was to just be patient, as this is a “phase” many kids go through. Silence, however, says so much. To a child doubting God’s existence, it says, “I don’t have good answers for your questions so I’ll just be over here in the corner waiting this whole thing out.” And if mom and dad don’t have good answers, kids are unlikely to assume good answers exist elsewhere. Silence is not golden.
Need Help with Better Answers?
Parents, questions of God’s existence are foundational to our kids’ faith. We have to get these conversations right, particularly in a world that challenges the fact of God’s existence each and every day.
That’s exactly why I wrote my new book, Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have. I wanted to help parents not just talk with their kids about God, but do so in the ways most needed by kids growing up in a secular world. In the book, you’ll find five sections that will prepare you to discuss how we know God is real and what we can know about Him from many different angles (check out the full table of contents here):
- The Existence of God
- Science and God
- The Nature of God
- Believing in God
- The Difference God Makes
Every chapter even has a step-by-step conversation guide. If this looks like a valuable resource for your family, church, or school, please take a minute to pre-order it now at christianbook.com, bn.com, or amazon.com. It comes out in just a few weeks, and your early support encourages retailers to stock it!
Let’s work together to give our kids the answers they deserve. We don’t want anyone ever to grow up thinking there’s no more evidence for God than there is for Santa.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).