Tackling tough topics with kids: Why does God let bad things happen?
About a year ago my older sister, Elizabeth, sent me this text: “Help! My boys are very concerned and don’t understand why God spared us but hurt the Bahamas. They want to know why would He let a hurricane take people’s homes and lives?”
Elizabeth lives on the coast of central Florida and was on her way back home after being evacuated thanks to Hurricane Dorian. Her boys were familiar with hurricanes, but felt confused about why their home was protected and the Bahamas were not (if you remember, Hurricane Dorian was a category 5 hurricane that devastated the Bahamas and did a lot of damage to surrounding areas).
Well, I started a blog post about this, got overwhelmed by the topic, and I never published it! Sorry, Elizabeth!
But enter 2020: this year has been a wild one. It has been filled with major events that have led to a lot of family discussions about why bad things happen in this world.
I have spent a lot time thinking about the concept of suffering and the theology of evil and sin, asking and re-asking myself why bad things happen in the world. I dug through my theology books, I poured through sermons and commentaries, I read verse after verse.
I wish that I had a neat little blog post wrapped up in a Pinterest perfect bow for you to read. I wish I had an answer that would make you say, “Yes, that makes sense and I can get on board with all of this. I can tell she spent a year working on this post, I have no more questions!" But I don’t have that.
The reality is I don’t know. I don’t know why the Bahamas were ravaged in a hurricane. I don’t know why a few years before that, my sister’s home was destroyed in a different hurricane. I just read a story about a little girl with a severe traumatic brain injury from a minor fall, another about a baby who was taken from his mom for seemingly unjustifiable reasons. I don't know why our black brothers and sisters continue to experience racist and hateful acts that come from the evil and darkness that lives in people’s hearts. I want to tell you that I have an easy answer as to why God lets those things happen. But I can’t. Not really. God doesn’t promise us easy answers to this because He doesn’t give as the world gives. Honestly, it’s one of the most frustrating things about God! Oh, if only we could keep a Kingdom mindset at all times!? But we live on earth. A broken earth. And what God promises us here is eternal life and peace.
Four things to remember:
1. We cannot ignore the fall when we talk about sin and suffering in the world. When Adam and Eve were given free will and decided to eat from the tree, they did so out of disobedience to God. As a result, our world is separated from God. God created a good thing—all the earth and humans—but our separation from Him makes creation broken. Humans do sinful things and the earth (which is also under God's authority) even has normal weather patterns go bad. But Jesus already made us a promise of eternal life and a new world when He defeated evil on the cross, it's just on a different timeline than us. We are looking for that now, but He promises it in His time.
2. Jesus promises us a peace that passes understanding, a perfect peace for when things don’t make sense. Peace knowing that evil was defeated by our real and loving God. Our hope lies in Him and His promises, not in our broken world.
3. We should talk to our kids about the bad and the good. We can't sugar coat that there is evil in the world, but we can also highlight the amazing things that first responders are doing and talk about what loving people are doing to come together and help each other. Many of us have heard this incredible Mr. Rogers quote over the last few years, it's a great one to share with your kids:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” -Fred Rogers
4. And of course, it's so important to share with them how even though we might not see or understand it, God can bring good out of even the hardest situations. God promises to bring good out of all things (even the bad stuff) for those who love Him and trust Him. Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Sarah grew up with a mother who emphasized this concept constantly, she taught Sarah that even though this horrible tragedy had happened to their family, God would use it for good if we looked to Him.
What to tell kids:
We have come up with some talking points for you if your kids start asking why bad things happen or if they ask about specific events. This is just a starting point, but we hope it helps!
1. Sad things happen and it's really hard, but our hope is in Jesus, not in the world.
John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Some day we will go to Heaven and Jesus will come back and there will be no more evil, no more pain, and no more crying. It's really hard now, and it's okay to cry now, it's okay to hurt now, but we get to hope in Jesus and that is really cool.
Try saying:"I know this is really hard and really sad. It's okay to cry and it's okay to be sad. Remember who our hope is in? Jesus and He will give us peace."
2. We can always talk to God about things that are hard and when we talk to God, we often grow closer to Him too.
He loves our desperate prayers when we cry out to Him. He wants to hold us and comfort us and show us how real he is.
Psalm 34:18 says, "God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Try saying: "We can always talk to God about anything. He knows our hearts. Would you like to talk to Him now and pray?"
Take a moment to pray with your kids. If you are stuck and don't know where to begin, try doing a Lectio Divina of Psalm 23, the Grateful Game, or Breath Prayers. And don't forget that you can always recite the Lord's Prayer together if you don't know what to say.
3. God will never leave us, even in hard times.
Joshua 1:9 says, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
God speaks these words to Joshua after the death of Moses. Joshua is now in control of the Israelites and their journey to the Promised Land and God is commanding courage, strength, and faithfulness from the new leader. I'm sure that Joshua was terrified of the responsibility before him, but he was called by God and he put his trust in Him because God promised to be with him. It's not always easy, but God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The same God that promised to be with Joshua promises to be with you too.
Try saying: "God is always with us, no matter what is going on. We may not be able to see Him, but He is here to love us and help us."
4. We get to shine God's light when bad things are happening to other people around us.
Hebrews 13:1-3 says, "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
We have the opportunity to show love to people who are hurting. We can make meals, write cards, visit, give hugs, or lend a helping hand and a listening ear. Talk with your kids about how they can show love to someone who is hurting, our kids have huge and gracious hearts, they probably have fun ideas!
Try saying: "People around us are hurting. How can we show them God's love while they are going through this hard time?"
5. It's ok to say, "I don't know, but..."
Sometimes kids really stump us. It's totally ok to take a deep breath and say, "I don't know, but that's such a great question, let's ask God together." Or, "I don't know, but let's invite someone over to dinner who is an expert at that topic." Or, "I don't know, but let me read my Bible and ask a few mentors and then we'll talk about it more later." Or, "I don't know, but here's what I have discovered to be true about God."
Try saying: "I don't know, but let's figure it out together."
Parents, just the fact that you are willing to engage these difficult topics with your kids is so awesome. Make sure to lean in and really listen. Be humble about what you don’t know. Be real about your own questions that you have for God, too. Share what He’s been teaching you. Humility makes kids feel safe. You sharing your faith helps them to see that Jesus is real in your life too. You are doing a great job. It’s ok to not know what to say, we are right there with you. We’re all in this together and we would love to hear from you! Let us know: how do you handle tough topics with your kids?