Since 1991 I have sat with children in support groups as they process circumstances that upset them. Sometimes an older child will ask me why God didn’t stop it or why God lets tragedies happen. Here are two principles I use to guide these conversations.

Principle #1: Find out why they are asking.

From Dr. Becky Bailey I learn to discover first whether the child wants information or understanding. I can find a clue by listening to their tone of voice–the force behind their question. I watch their facial expression and reflect back what I see. I will ask what situation they are thinking of.

770996_58701448 injuryAre they asking because evil and suffering have touched them personally and often? Have they been treated cruelly by others? They are more likely asking for emotional support and a way out of the hurtful experience right now in their own life circumstances.

652078_12546608 disaster1Are they asking because they have they seen and heard about evil and suffering around them: violence, poverty, abuse, natural disasters and more? When looking at it globally, their interest may tend toward information about what God’s character is really like. Is this the kind of being that God is?

Principle #2: Then….Respond.

Some responses are obvious. For example, an incident may need to be reported. Or a child may need empathy or a chance to express their feelings.

question wrong choices 264245_8285If they are asking for information about the nature of God’s involvement in pain and suffering, you could say that nobody really knows for sure. But what are some things you found to be true as you have wrestled with this question for yourself? Use those as talking points–seeds of discussion that give children space to work it out in their own words. Here are mine:

  • God wants a good life for humanity.God intends to bless us and not to hurt us.
  • God created the possibility that people could choose to make a different choice than what he intends.
  • People, not God, hurt people. God could make people stop–if he wanted to control people’s lives–but he gives us freedom and the right to do good or bad, feel hate or love.
  • God allows nature to take its course and that includes extreme weather and all kinds of disease.
  • 1005264_82808103feetSuffering people often say that they see God’s involvement after a tragedy though the hands, feet and voice of the people who bring relief and order into the situation.
  • In our relationship with God we work alongside him when we involve ourselves in the response to pain and suffering in the world.

Tweetable:  When children ask why bad things happen, the child-sized ideas here may shed light on a very tough issue. Click to Tweet