I happen to have many friends and acquaintances who are interested in apologetics (being able to explain the Christian faith). We are an interesting crew, ranging from folks with highly advanced Ph.D’s to schmoes like me, and we are keen on being able to put our faith into words. We want people to understand that belief in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is not a blind leap into an uninformed, unintelligent abyss, but a reasonable belief grounded in reason and evidence.
This desire for understanding puts us in the path of people who don’t always agree with our view of the world. In fact, many apologists actually seek out those with the toughest questions, the most skeptical of the skeptics. They do this not as a fool’s errand, but as an act of worship and charity; worship, because they want to tell of their glorious God, and charity, because they want their skeptical friends to hear the truth of the Gospel. And it is exactly encounters like those that keeps my apologist friends forever reading, researching, writing, honing their understanding of God’s universe and will.
We seek, to the best of our ability, to make God known.
All of this is well and good, but if we’re not careful we can get into a rut. To put it plainly, we cheat. We tend to think that the deep questions of the faith come from mature minds, from people who are able to critically assess the universe in which they live. So we build our answers around that presumption, importing large words and sophisticated sounding terms that are meant to impart wisdom as well as create the impression that we know of which we speak. We arm ourselves for adults and feel like we have things mastered.
But have you ever tried apologetics with a not-quite-four year old?
Now THAT is a test. Perhaps the real test of whether or not you truly understand what you believe.
Because a four year old doesn’t have the intellectual or moral hang ups of an adult. They don’t have the baggage of past sins, the experience of past hurts, or any other number of objections that make faith in God difficult. A four year old is just the opposite: so gloriously free of preconceptions that their questions are truly a search for knowledge.
You don’t think about this when you’re doing apologetics with adults. You assume there’s a knowledge base of some sort, and you go from there. With kids, it’s a blank page. And it’s hard. You never realize just how silly you can sound until you try out a fancy apologetic argument on a preschooler.
It sounds about as stupid as trying to explain superheroes. In your mind it all makes sense, but you can see on the kid’s face that what you’re selling, they ain’t buying.
And when a kid doesn’t get a concept, when they truly don’t understand – but want to – they ask the question that every parent dreads hearing, but every apologist thinks they’re prepared for: why?
Why can’t we see God?
Why does God live in heaven?
Why did Jesus have to die?
Why is there sin?
Why did my grandmother get sick?
Why do some people get baptized?
Why do you pray?
Why do some prayers not get answered?
Not all of a preschoolers questions are whys, though. You get a lot of interesting whats as well: what will heaven look like? What does Jesus do all day? What if God has stinky feet? What happens if we don’t love God?
And don’t forget the wheres, whens and hows.
It is astounding how quickly the philosophy in your head falls apart in a four year old’s hands, how guilty you can be of not thinking deeply enough so a preschooler can understand.
When Jesus said it takes the faith of a child to come to God, I don’t think he meant simple-minded in the sense we think of. I think he meant it in the sense that a child seeks genuine answers with genuine awe. As adults, we just seek answers that will shut somebody up, end the argument, get us through the day. It’s a utilitarian belief rather than a sincere one. That’s a broad statement to make, but I don’t think it’s unfair.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because both of my children have been asking some profound questions, but especially my son. He wants so badly to understand things that he can turn a five minute car ride into an interrogatory hell. He asks a million questions, often repeating the same ones, not because he’s not listening, but precisely because he is. And it pushes me to constantly reframe my answers, to drill down, distill, cut away the fluff that adults will allow until I get to the meat that he’s craving.
I’lll stand on a stage and face an audience full of adults any day. And they’ll probably think I’m smarter than my son does.
So for all you apologists out there who think you have the answers down pat, may I issue you a helpful challenge, one meant to hone your own thinking and help make you sharper for the adults you face?
Sometime in the next month or so, volunteer to teach your church’s preschool class, or give the children’s church sermon.
You’ll be amazed at how much the kids can teach you.