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Child running toward her mother

Explaining Life, Death, and Suffering

Johann Christoph Arnold

Available languages: Deutsch, Español, 한국어, العربية

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For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. – Isaiah 55:8

In speaking about birth, death, and the other mysteries of human existence with children, it is good to remember that all of life is in God's hands. Children understand this truth more easily than adults. Their minds are simple and their questions straightforward; if our answers go beyond what they have asked, we only confuse them.

All life comes from God and goes back to God, and if we really believe this, our fears about death – and our children's fears – should be allayed. The Bible tells us that God holds power even over death, and how wonderful it will be when Jesus comes back – how the trumpet will sound, and how we will all be made alive, even more than we are now.

Telling children about birth need not be difficult. Most children will accept and understand new life quite simply, as a gift that comes from God, and we must take care not to burden them with more information than they have asked for. Of course, what they ask about will also change with age, and as they grow older, we cannot hide from them the facts of human reproduction. Even then, reverence for God as the source and giver of life will enable them to accept our answers, and to respect their own – and other's – bodies.

At a surprisingly young age, children may also wonder why God allows so much suffering in the world – why he allows poverty, war, and evil, and why it often seems that the devil is stronger than God. Such thoughts may never occur to some children, but can cause considerable worry to others.

When children ask about these things, parents should remind them that despite sin, pain, and injustice, God is all-powerful, and that his love will rule in the end. Explain to them that all the pain of the world – especially the suffering of innocent people – is also a deep pain to God. Help them to see that it is not God's fault when people hate each other and start wars. And point them to the story of Adam and Eve, who questioned God's word and then disobeyed him by eating from the tree of knowledge. This is how sin came into the world; before the fall of man, everything and everyone lived in harmony and peace. That is how God wanted it to be, and that is how it will be again when his peaceable kingdom comes on the earth.

In this way children can be helped to understand that suffering and death are a part of God's plan. Naturally we should not frighten them, but it will not harm them to know that they will also suffer – and die – one day. In fact, this is something they can look forward to, providing we also pass on to them a living faith.

We can do this best by admitting our own fears to our children and praying with them, while at the same time emphasizing the peace we find when we trust in God. In this way, children will learn, by example, to cope with the suffering they are bound to face sooner or later.

We must also be vigilant in taking time for children who are dealing with insecurities. Maybe a friend or relative has been injured or even died, or a teacher has brought up a recent accident or natural disaster in class. Either way, what may seem a small incident to us can loom large in a child's mind. But listening to fears, answering questions, and pointing the child to God can bring peace.

Older children can also be reminded that even if they are afraid, there may be others worse off than they. This will teach them compassion. And we can reassure them that God will not burden us with more than we can bear.

From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.

child holding paper dolls of a family
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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