What should you do when your young child expresses doubt about the Bible, or even outright unbelief and skepticism?
When Peter Enns’ six-year-old son expressed skepticism about the talking snake and the deadly fruit in the Garden of Eden, Enns replied: “You don’t really believe in God anymore? O.K., well, tell him.” He went on to explain:
Over the years, I have been thankful to God that I didn’t correct my son’s theology, for that would have been utterly stupid. Had I shamed him or coerced him into saying the right thing (so I would feel better about my parenting skills), I would have been responsible for creating another religious drone, another one who, at a young age, was already learning to play the religion game.
I’m sure Peter Enns is a far better father than I am in many ways. And I accept that no one knows a child’s particular needs like their own father or mother. But I hope no one thinks that this is THE model for dealing with their children’s spiritual doubts and unbelief.
While we want our children to be able to discuss their questions, doubts, and even unbelief, with us and with God, we can’t treat this in the same way as doubting the Humpty Dumpty narrative.
“You don’t believe in God anymore? OK”
It’s not OK. It’s a sin.
But it’s wonderfully forgivable.
That’s why we don’t just tell Him our doubts and unbelief. We confess it. God will not give us or our children victory over any sin, including unbelief, unless we repent of it and ask for faith.
And to be proud of not correcting the devilish theology that naturally arises out of our children’s sinful hearts? Heresy is more fatal than heroin. And to lovingly correct our children and teach them to submit their proud intellects to God’s Word is not to coerce or shame them into hypocrisy. It’s to love their souls more than they do themselves. It’s to intervene so that young heretics do not become old heretics, but rather live by faith and ultimately die in faith.
I believe, help my unbelief
Yes, let’s encourage our children to be honest with God, to pray about everything, even their worst doubts; but to do so in a spirit of contrition and humility, and with the prayer that God will always answer: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”
How about something like this: “Well my son, I’ve had my own struggles with doubt over the years. Faith does not come easily or naturally to any of us. But to doubt God or His Word is a serious matter that we should always repent of. So, why don’t we lay this unbelief before the Lord in humble confession, and ask Him to forgive us, and also to give us the gift of faith that will enable us to believe in Him and every one of His precious words.”
After reflecting on his son’s skepticism, Enns concludes: “I am proud of that little six-year-old, who trusted himself enough not to play games.”
“Who trusted himself enough?”
The whole message of the Bible is trust God and not yourself. To trust yourself is to play a deadly game that no one has ever won.
As Spurgeon once said, “The man who goes through life trying to be consistent with himself will find out in the end that he’s been consistent with a devil.”