Robin Barfield suggests that some awkward sounding questions might suggest there’s lots going on inside a child’s mind and heart
In over 20 years of professional children’s ministry and amateur dadding this question, and variations of it, have been asked more times than any other. It lies in the same category as the ‘Who made God?’ question. Was there something or someone before God? Has He always been there and will He always be there? There is a wondering in the child at a God who may be bigger than time and space; a God who is utterly different from us – how is He like us; how is He different? We know there’s a beginning to the world, but what about God?
It’s a vitally important question, not just for them but for us as well. Yet, it is sometimes easy to dismiss because of the way it is asked by the child. It comes across as cutesy, or even banal; like imagining a world which exists on the back of an endless series of turtles as Terry Pratchett describes. After all, if God has a Mum and Dad then surely God’s Mum and Dad have parents, and so on. Yet, as with so many questions from children, it harbours an important sense that the child is seeking to fit together what they understand of reality with what they do not understand. The first thing I seek to do when I get a question like this is to acknowledge it as a reasonable question, a good question, rather than to dismiss it as silly or unimportant.
The second aspect which seems important is to begin to dig a little deeper into why they are asking the question. It’s unlikely that there is a pastoral issue lying behind this question, but there may be. ”Why do you think God might need a parent? Do you think God is like us?” This can bring out an interesting discussion around how God is like us or rather how we are like God – we are created to reflect His character, His personality.
In another way, in God’s being, we are nothing like God. We have a beginning and an end. God does not. He is eternal. There is no possibility of Him having a Mum and Dad because He is too great to need to be created. As I kept being asked similar questions, I realised that often these came from living in a post-Christian society. These were not questions of Who God is, but of What God is. This is about the perfections of God’s being. The Westminster Confession replies to the question ‘What is God’?’ with the answer, ‘God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.’ It is impossible to get this, whether we are children or adults. We cannot conceive of something eternal and infinite – perhaps the child asking the question has struck on something significant.
There may be another reason why the child is asking: in Jesus, God the Son was born of a human mother. A God who is totally other became like us. This can be hard for a child to understand – Jesus was born at Christmas but is God and has been forever. This may require teasing out. It is vital that we help them to understand that the God with whom they are friends in Jesus is Almighty, all-powerful, eternal and infinite.
It would be very easy to answer this question with, ‘No’ and shut the conversation down. In one sense we would be providing a ‘correct’ answer. But this would miss the richness of the conversation and exploration that can come from a question such as this. This would miss out on the opportunity to plumb the depths of the richness and the glory of God’s being, that very otherness that makes Him worthy of worship. If a child can begin to grasp the wonderful nature of God Himself, then it can make it even more amazing for them that He would take on flesh and be born of human parents in order that we might know Him in His fullness. What a great conversation that could be!