One of the great joys of teaching or leading a small group is when children ask amazing questions. Many prove easy to answer, but some are very difficult. For example, years ago I was teaching a lesson on Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, and God’s response as recorded in Genesis 3, to a class of third graders. After finishing the story, one child asked, “Mrs. Nelson, why did God put the tree in the garden in the first place?”
I thought to myself: That’s a really good question! This was not covered in the lesson. The text doesn’t answer this question either. When did third graders get so smart? I wish I had Dr. Wayne Grudem on speed dial. How can I stall while I try to think this through?
Over the years, I have grown to appreciate difficult questions. Hard questions show that the children are thinking and engaging with God’s Word, questions like:
Why does God save some people and not others?
Why did my cousin die even after we prayed for him to be healed?
If God provides for our needs, why do some people go hungry?
How can God be three people in one God?
They are trying to make sense of what is being taught and how it applies to their own lives. How we answer these questions is crucial if they are to have a hope-giving, unshakable confidence in God’s Word and faith in Christ. The challenge for the teacher or small group leader remains: How do we answer their hard questions? Along the way, I have learned several strategies that have helped me, including:
- Anticipate questions when preparing your lesson. Certain Bible stories and topics may naturally lend themselves to difficult questions. For example, when teaching a lesson that recounts Jesus healing the lame man, if you know that a child in your class had a sick grandparent who recently died, you could anticipate that the child may wonder: “Why didn’t Jesus heal my grandma?”
- Acknowledge legitimate questions in a positive manner. We should clearly communicate to our students that we welcome hard questions! Our initial response, both our words and demeanor, should display a love for the student and an unswerving love and confidence in the absolute trustworthiness and goodness of God’s Word. Hard questions help us better understand God, ourselves, the Christian life, and the world around us. If we don’t supply our students with biblical answers to their questions, they will look elsewhere.
- Answer with what you know to be true, even if it doesn’t explicitly answer the question in totality. Think again of the question from the third grader. Although I didn’t have a concise answer for him at the time, I did lead the children to recall some important truths about God: God is sovereign and has the right, wisdom, and power to do all that He pleases. God is good and loving. His ways are perfect. God does everything for His glory, to show His greatness and worth. What is the greatest and most loving thing God has ever done for man? He saved sinners through Jesus’ death on the cross. Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden led to Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf—showing God to be worthy of our greatest love and praise!
- Defer answering a question over giving a bad answer. It’s better to say, “I don’t know” than to give a wrong answer. “God didn’t know that Adam and Eve would eat of the tree” would be a really bad answer that would undermine the truth of God’s omniscience and sovereignty. It would be better to say, “That’s a really good question. I don’t know the answer, but I will try to find out, and we can talk about it next week.”
- Make use of trusted resources. When posed with a difficult question, run it by an elder and/or pastor, if possible. Also make use of trusted resources. I highly recommend Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith by Wayne Grudem and Jeff Purswell, and Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by Dr. R. C. Sproul.
- Remind the children that God is incomprehensible. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). It’s good to remind children that, because God alone is God and we are not, He is more than we can fully understand no matter how old we are. Think about the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. We can answer questions about what it means and why it’s important, but we can never fully explain or grasp it. We can, however, assure children that the Bible reveals all the essential truths needed to come to truly know, love, and trust in God and live as a disciple of Jesus. In other words, it’s okay and even normal to not understand everything! Furthermore, this should cause us to be even more in awe of God and want to bow down and worship Him.
- Be tenderhearted and Gospel-focused in your response. Some hard questions require answers that are difficult for a child to hear and may result in a feeling of sadness or a sense of hopelessness. “What happens if my friend dies and she hasn’t trusted in Jesus?” We must be very careful to convey the truth in loving, tenderhearted, sensitive, sympathetic, and age-appropriate ways. We should always point children toward hope in Christ. “Let’s look at Romans 6:23. What’s the sad part of this verse? But what’s the happy part? How could you tell your friend about Jesus this week? Let’s pray for your friend, asking God to save him. And remember: We can trust God to do what is right in this situation.”
- If warranted, communicate with parents. We often do not fully comprehend what is behind some questions. Is it general curiosity, or is there a specific circumstance in a child’s life? Speaking with parents is a means to better understand the source of the question, helping a teacher answer with greater discernment and wisdom.
- Use Bible curriculum that doesn’t shy away from difficult doctrines. Good curriculum will intentionally and progressively present and explain difficult doctrines, and serve to equip students with biblical answers to their questions. (Truth78 curricula has been written with this in mind.)
- Pray, pray, and pray. As a teacher, I know I have come up short in how I have answered specific questions. At times, I have been impatient and have simply ignored a question. I haven’t always been tenderhearted in my response. I have given answers that were confusing and lacking in biblical truth. In every case, one of the things lacking in mind and heart was the absence of humble and earnest prayer. Bathe your lesson preparation with prayer. Pray aloud before the lesson. Before answering a difficult question during the lesson, take a moment to silently ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words. Pray aloud at the end of the lesson. God is able to do what we cannot do! He can bring about clarity and confidence in His Word through our feeble efforts. We might think that we have blown it, but God may be at work in a child’s heart bringing about faith and understanding.