Explaining God to a Child

A lot of Christians have a strong desire to ensure that their children follow them in the faith. And to that end, a great deal of energy is expended in teaching them what to believe. Which, to a certain extent is OK. Our faith is not endlessly malleable and there are core beliefs that have been carefully passed down through the millennia for a reason. Yet knowing what to believe about God is very different from actually knowing God. And ultimately, it is knowing God that makes a person’s faith stick. So that’s what I want for my kids and what I focus my attention on when it comes to passing on the faith.

Of course, anyone who has tried explaining God to a child knows that there’s a very good reason we tend to fall back on explaining doctrines and telling stories. God is not very easily put into words. So, as someone with a bit of a way with words and a couple decades of experience trying to explain God to children, allow me to share what’s worked for me. Feel free to steal as you see fit. 😉

What is God?

God is not a thing. Usually we say that God is spirit. Can you imagine what a person would be without their body? That’s a bit like what it means to be a spirit. Except God is much more than just one person. Try to imagine if you could take the spirit of every person and put it together to make one spirit that included every person’s spirit in it. God’s like that, except with the spirit of everything that exists added in. And then a bit more because God is bigger and more than everything that exists even.

The bible says that God is love. So you love me and I love you. Here – let’s look into each other’s eyes and you think how much you love me and I’ll think about how much I love you. Do you feel that? That’s God right there between us.

On God’s Omnipresence

God is like air. Air is all around you and it’s all around me and every other person alive. In the bible is says that “in God we live and move and exist”, just like we live and move and exist in the air that’s everywhere. I breathe air in so there’s air inside of me. And you have air inside of you. But the air in me doesn’t take air away from you. It’s all the same air, but there’s still plenty of air for all of us. And that’s what it’s like with God as well.

Sometimes we notice air. When it moves we feel it. Most often, we don’t even think about it. But it’s always there. And it’s always keeping us alive. In fact, it was keeping people alive for a long time before people knew what it was or why we needed it. And God is the same way.

On God’s Omnipotence

Now, air is a thing. It’s made of little bitty atoms and molecules. But air isn’t alive. So far as we can tell, it doesn’t feel or think or know what it’s doing. God, on the other hand, is alive. God does think and feel and know what he’s doing. So imagine if the air was able to know and feel and watch everything it touched. It would know what was happening on the outside and on the inside of everything. That’s kind of what it’s like to be God.

On Prayer

Even though God is everywhere and knows everything, God isn’t rude. God’s not going to come barging into your head without a very good reason. Instead, God waits for an invitation. And that’s what happens when you pray – you invite God in to hear what you have to say and think. And then if you get quiet and listen, sometimes you’ll even hear something back from God. It’s a little weird and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re just talking to yourself. And that’s OK. God made you to be an awful lot like him, so talking to God isn’t always going to be all that different from talking to yourself. But sometimes, you will know that God is speaking to you. Usually because what you hear touches your heart or surprises you or even takes your breath away. And when that happens, try to remember it. Because sometimes God is pretty quiet and when that happens, it helps to remember what was said before.

Who is Jesus?

Remember how I said that God is spirit? That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? Even if we pray and think about these things, it’s still awfully hard to understand. God knows this. So, when the time was right, Jesus was born. Jesus was a human being just like us with a body and a family and a mind that worked just like ours. But his spirit – what we are when we don’t have a body – was God. Jesus shows us what it looks like when God lives as a human being. So we can see what God looks like, acts like and cares about when he exists not as air or spirit, but as a human being.

Jesus shows us the truth about God. Because of him, we have a way to examine God. Let’s say that you tell me that you prayed and found God to be mean, harsh and angry. And I say that I pray and found God to be kind, gentle and loving. How can we know which is right? Well, we can look at Jesus. Sometimes Jesus was angry and harsh. But mostly he was kind, gentle and loving. So maybe there are times when God seems angry and harsh, but mostly we can expect him to be kind, gentle and loving.

Or let’s say that someone tells you that it’s really important to God that we dress a certain way or not listen to certain music or not spend time with people who aren’t like us. And they even have a bunch of bible verses to show you that this is true. Well, you can look at Jesus and see that he never showed any interest in how people dressed or what they did for fun and he spent time with all sorts of people. So even though someone might have a bunch of bible verses that they are using to tell you these things, you can be pretty sure that they are confused. Because of Jesus.

Not only that, but have you ever thought that maybe God didn’t really understand what you are dealing with? Like maybe God’s on the outside looking in but doesn’t really get how hard life is sometimes or what it’s like to really struggle? I think that sometimes. But Jesus went through all the things that we go through. He was called names and got sick to his stomach and felt alone and misunderstood. He got hungry and crabby and was treated unfairly and wasn’t always allowed to do what he wanted. So we know that God actually does know what it’s like. He really can understand what we go through. And now we know that because we know that Jesus went through all those things as well.

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Sleep Tight Under the Stars

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Psalm19:1

See that? It’s a picture of a tiny patch of empty space taken by the Hubble Telescope. And all those things are galaxies. Galaxies! Not just one star, but bilions in each one. Can you imagine?

I look at something like this and wonder,”what in the world is this all about?” What is God doing, creating so much? One galaxy would seem to be enough. Or 100 or 1000. But that’s tens of thousands of galaxies and there are billions more. Why? What is God doing? Is there a reason for all of this or is the reason just the joy of creating and exploring creation that God desires? Is it a desure for beauty or a complex puzzle to enjoy? How many children does our God have? It boggles the mind.

And how absurd that anyone who would attempt to claim to understand God. Looking at just a small glimpse of what God has made, how can we even understand man? What can it possibly mean to bear the image of the one who has created all of this? What is life in the middle of all this?

After a while, the little girl in me can’t help but turn to her daddy and say, “look what you did! It’s so beautiful! I can’t believe you made all that! You did so good, Pappa!”

(You can read more about the technical aspects of making this picture and what you’re seeing here.)

When Praise is a Sacrifice

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. ~ Hebrews 13:15

Do you know that sometimes praise is a sacrifice? When there’s nothing left to praise but the air you are breathing and you praise God for air. When you’d just as soon not wake up for another day and you praise God for the bed you’re lying on. When there’s no comfort or relief so you praise God for revealing himself so you have somewhere to direct your thoughts when you’re suffering.

Sometimes praise hurts. Sometimes it starts as a bitter complaint. Sometimes praise has no emotion or action behind it because only your will can move in the direction of God. This is a sacrifice of praise. This is the sort of sacrifice God will never, ever turn away.

If your praises are sacrifices right now, I want to share a song with you. Many Sundays in our home after yet another week of one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, my husband will put this song on repeat and dance around with the kids. Because sometimes there’s nothing left to do but praise him!

Here’s the link for those of you reading this by email. Continue reading

In the End Times No One Listens to Their Pastor

Remember me writing about the church’s inability to deal with the reality of the world rather than clinging to their ideas about the world? Well, if you would like to see what this looks like in action, ask a pastor why people leave church and then ask 20 people who have left church about their experience. The overlap will be non-existent.

Oh, I get where the church people are coming from. It’s easy enough to take “I never felt accepted” and hear “I’m unwilling to engage with people who don’t think like me”. Or hear, “I was turned off by the church’s fixation on sex and politics” and hear “I just want to be able to sin without anyone holding me accountable“. Or “I found peace in my heart when I walked away from the church” and hear “I just want to engage in navel-gazing as spirituality”.

I get the temptation to interpret people’s words in such a way as to affirm our assumption that they are in error. But what if we just took people at their word? What if we accepted at face value that people don’t find acceptance at church, are turned off by the church’s fixations and have found peace by walking away? What then?

I believe that people are being drawn away from the church by God. I think that people are leaving and have peace about it because they know that they know that they know that they are on a path towards God that has taken them out of the church. At least for now. The rise of the nones and the spiritual-but-not-religious types is actually a sign that we are seeing the fulfillment of scripture.

The bible tells us to expect a time such as this: Continue reading

The Hardest, Best Spiritual Practice I’ve Ever Tried

Learning how not to judge has been the most demanding, arduous and painful spiritual discipline I have ever undertaken. It’s also been the most fruitful. I could probably write books and books filled with stories and lessons I would never have encountered if I had not made a commitment to practicing this discipline.

While most people probably don’t think of not judging as a spiritual discipline, this is exactly how I’ve practiced it. It’s something I do out of obedience and discipline, even when I don’t feel like it or it seems pointless. It’s a conscious practice I have chosen to engage in and must make an effort to do.

Not judging is like loving unconditionally in that people who have never really tried doing it assume it’s an easy, comfortable and safe thing to do. The truth is it’s unbelievably challenging. Most people can’t even manage it when someone cuts them off in traffic. Continue reading

Playing With Our Lives?

Did you know that all animals play? I knew some did, but hadn’t realized how widespread play is in the animal kingdom:

the existence of animal play is considered something of an intellectual scandal. It’s understudied, and those who do study it are seen as mildly eccentric. As with many vaguely threatening, speculative notions, difficult-to-satisfy criteria are introduced for proving animal play exists, and even when it is acknowledged, the research more often than not cannibalizes its own insights by trying to demonstrate that play must have some long-term survival or reproductive function.

Despite all this, those who do look into the matter are invariably forced to the conclusion that play does exist across the animal universe. And exists not just among such notoriously frivolous creatures as monkeys, dolphins, or puppies, but among such unlikely species as frogs, minnows, salamanders, fiddler crabs, and yes, even ants—which not only engage in frivolous activities as individuals, but also have been observed since the nineteenth century to arrange mock-wars, apparently just for the fun of it. ~ David Graeber*

Aside from just being cool, it also makes me wonder if God’s intention for us doesn’t include a good deal of pleasure. Scripture says that creation is a testimony to God. If play is so widespread that ants do it, then that must reflect something about God’s nature and therefor ours.

In the article I quote above, Dr. Graeber goes on to postulate that play at it’s most basic level may even exist at the quantum level. That even subatomic particles may be chosing their paths and that they may sometimes do it for the sheer pleasure of it.

It’s an axiom of JudeoChristian thought that there is something wrong with humanity. If we learn that play is a driving force in the very foundations of the universe. And if we accept that living things appear to all play. Then, it would appear that our impoverished concept of play and its role in our lives may be one of those things that’s really wrong about us. Who woulda thunk it?

*That quote comes from a delightful article I read recently on the role of play in creation. It’s really long and rather scholarly though. Sample:

What would happen if we proceeded from the reverse perspective and agreed to treat play not as some peculiar anomaly, but as our starting point, a principle already present not just in lobsters and indeed all living creatures, but also on every level where we find what physicists, chemists, and biologists refer to as “self-organizing systems”

If that sentence made your heart sing, you can go read the whole thing here. If you’re a normal human being and that sentence gave you a headache, here’s an awesome video of a whale and dolphin playing: