We, as parents, should not allow our preschool-aged children to engage in certain activities until they’re a little older. For instance, full-contact football or diamond-cutting should probably wait until their motor skills have improved. And learning calculus might be more beneficial once your child has a foundational understanding of basic mathematics. A bunch of stuff should wait until long after kindergarten, but one of these things is NOT theology.
I know it sounds crazy. Theology seems like it should be in the same category as advanced calculus, but it’s not. A person can live an entire lifetime and not know anything about calculus (like me, for instance), but every preschooler is, at this very moment, engaged in the study of theology. It’s happening all the time.Each child has an instinctive need to make sense of the world around him or her, and many of the questions that arise are theological. “Why are some people mean?” “What makes the grass grow?” or “Why does my sister have Down Syndrome?” Now there are many people who would answer these questions in terms of social inequality or natural process or irregular DNA. Those answers would perhaps be partially true but only in a cold, physical sense. These, however, are fundamentally not questions of function; they are questions of meaning. Now, one can respond to a question of meaning with an answer that is devoid of God, but doing so reflects a person’s theology, too. Deciding that God does not exist is an incorrect but nonetheless theological conclusion. Even an atheist has theological beliefs. Like all humans, preschoolers wonder about how the world works, why people are the way they are, and whether or not there is a God.
Your five-year-old is pondering theological questions every day. He or she will notice that some people enjoy repairing things, some are compelled to create beauty, and some tell stories. This is part of the creative impulse given to us by either selective propagation or by God. See, theology is everywhere! But I digress. I personally feel compelled to help kids understand God. A. W. Tozer tells us “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”1 That is just as true for you and me as it is for a four-year-old. What if your little girl, sitting in her sandbox one day, decides that based on the evidence around her God is angry with all of us all the time? This is a theological disaster! Chances are that you as her parent wouldn’t even know that she has come to this horrible conclusion. What if your son and his friends are playing “fort” in a cardboard box, and he decides that because his prayer did not get answered, God is not real or God is at least not interested in the needs of little boys. This is a devastating blow to truth! So the crucial question becomes, How does a parent instruct in theology a kid who cannot think abstractly, who cannot cope with complex answers, and who cannot sit still because he has a live cricket in his pocket? I suggest that we do what parents of past civilizations have done for thousands of years. Tell our young children carefully crafted stories.
In ancient Hebrew culture, every father knew that it was his responsibility to tell and retell stories about God to his children. The same concept is true for parents today. This is how a child begins to make sense out of a confusing world. Kids need to be told stories about God’s love and about why evil exists and why it will someday end. They need to be taught that each person is a creation of God and should therefore be treated with respect. We can’t wait for these questions to come from the mouths of our children. We need to give them stories that explain these things before they actually need to use them.
Let’s hold off on that whole calculus thing until a little later, but let’s serve up some good theology for our preschool-aged kids right now!