How to Respond When Your Child Asks You Questions You Can’t Answer
by Carey Nieuwhof
So your kid comes up to you and asks, “Dad, how do we know there’s a God?”
And you . . . freeze.
You say something like “Because I believe there’s a God,” or “We just know,” or “Because there is,” or “Because the Bible says God exists.”
Then your kid does what every kid does: he asks you another question.
A tough one. Like Why?
The little-kid routine of asking why seventeen times in a row can really expose how little you know as an adult.
Then, in your mind, you fast forward a couple of years, and your middle-schooler is asking about dinosaurs, the Big Bang, and Confucius, and you start to have a nervous breakdown.
So, how do you respond?
Here are five principles that have helped me navigate faith and questions not only from my kids but also from my experience as a pastor of a local church:
1. Don’t assume curiosity is skepticism.
One of the impulses every Christian parent feels is that questions automatically lead to disbelief.
No, they don’t. Not automatically.
Actually, great questions can lead to deeper belief.
But it’s just way too easy to assume that curiosity is skepticism.
Curiosity is not skepticism. It’s curiosity.
2. Don’t dismiss the question with trite answers.
One of the worst things you can do is answer any faith question with a simplistic answer like, “Well, we just have to believe,” or “Because it’s true.”
I’ve done that before. Not helpful.
Your eight-year-old suspects two things when you answer that way:
Christianity doesn’t stand up to questions or advanced thinking.
There are actually no answers to his question.
Both are mistakes.
3. Don’t over-answer the question.
An equally bad response is to show up the next day with a dozen theology textbooks and a scheduled Skype interview with one of the world’s foremost Old Testament professors.
That’s a bit of overkill for your eight-year-old or even your teenager.
So, what should you do?
Answer the question at the level the questioner is asking it.
Your daughter may just want to know that you believe, and an honest, “You know honey, there are a lot of reasons to believe in God—I’ve experienced Him myself, personally…and that’s one of the reasons I believe,” might be a great response.
Your daughter might just say, “Thanks.” Or she might ask another question, which you could then answer.
In the teen years, you might do a Bible or book study together.
Don’t under-answer a question, or over-answer it.
4. Don’t assume answers will satisfy the questioner.
I have a seminary degree. And a law degree. I can research things half decently. And I’m an okay preacher.
I’ve done sermons where I have researched my head off and preached my heart out on the subject of why a good God allows bad things to happen, only to have someone ask me a few days later “So…why do you think God allows bad things to happen?”
In those moments, I want to scream.
But those moments teach me something.
Often, people aren’t actually looking for an intellectual answer.
Instead, their question is coming out of their personal story.
So, flip the conversation. Question the questioner as Ravi Zacharias says.
Ask them why they ask.
The person asking the question might tell you his wife is sick and they can’t find a cure.
Or your third-grader son might say, “I want to know why that one kid in our class gets picked on all the time.”
Then go have a conversation about that.
5. Make your home a great place to raise doubts.
Remember that your kids will eventually have doubts.
Because you do. Because I do. Because we all do.
Faith is not the absence of doubts. It’s the presence of belief in the midst of doubt.
In her research, Dr. Kara Powell has discovered that the biggest reason kids, who grew up in the church, leave the church is not doubt. It’s unexpressed doubt.
If you make your home a place where questions aren’t welcome, your kids are going to take their questions elsewhere.
And where will they take them? Probably to a place that won’t give them the answers you’re hoping for.
So, decide ahead of time as a parent that you won’t freak out when your kid questions you and questions God. Or your teenager tells you that Christianity isn’t different than any other religion.
Thank them for the question. Explore it with them. Ask them questions. And reach out to a wider circle of influence that can help them process what they’re going through.
Make your home a safe place where doubts can be expressed. You just might foster belief as a result.
Those are five things that have helped me navigate the tension every parent and every church leader feels.
What’s helped you? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author:
Carey Nieuwhof is the lead pastor of Connexus Church and author of several books, including Parenting Beyond Your Capacity (with Reggie Joiner) and his latest book, "Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow." Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership and parenting. He writes one of the most widely read church leadership blogs at www.CareyNieuwhof.com and hosts the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews top leaders each week.