Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I explain to my five-year-old why God lets people be poor and homeless? In other words, how do I explain suffering to a young child?
Let me give you a couple of thoughts to consider as you explain suffering to your children.
1. Admit that no one can fully answer the question of why God allows pain and suffering in the world as well as to the poor and homeless. The Bible describes this problem is one of God’s mysteries (Seven of God’s mysteries are mentioned in the Bible. Colossians 1:25-27 is one example).
We trust by faith that he knows what he’s doing and that one day in heaven he will explain everything.
2. Explain that God weeps for those who are suffering. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem, considered all the suffering that was soon to come, and his heart broke.
In John 11:35 Lazarus was dead and Jesus wept as he saw Lazarus’ friends and loved ones mourning his death.
3. Help your child understand that we live in a fallen world (Genesis 3:1-6) which is, at the moment, controlled by Satan (1 John 5:19). Satan is the one who initiates most of our pain and suffering (Job chapters one and two). Only time will tell why God allows Satan the freedom to bring destruction and pain to so many.
You might describe the concept of “free will” and how God allows men and women the freedom to do good and/or bad. Satan and bad people cause much of the suffering in our world. Jesus will eventually judge them and bring justice for the pain they’ve caused others.
4. Explain how “hook rugs” portray gorgeous pictures and designs on the front side. However, all sorts of knots and strings are jumbled up on the back side. On earth, we see the backside of the rug with all the straggly pieces of convoluted yarn. God is looking at the front side of the rug.
While we can’t always see what God is doing, we can trust that he is at work with a plan which will one day be revealed as embroidered beauty (Romans 8:28-29).
6. Teach them that heaven is a wonderful place (Revelation 20:1- 6). Help them to understand that the ultimate healing from suffering is to die and be immediately with Jesus in heaven (Philippians 1:23-25).
7. Find opportunities for your child to interact with and to help those who are hurt and needy (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
When our youngest daughter was in the fourth grade she and two friends went every Tuesday to the local nursing home. They talked with the patients, worked on crafts, and played games. Those Tuesday afternoon sessions helped to develop compassionate hearts in all three girls.
Consider sponsoring a child through an organization like Compassion International. Corresponding with a child in a third world country not only alleviates hunger, it provides a great learning experience while building a deeper understanding of those less fortunate.
My daughter once talked me into taking $10 to a homeless park downtown. “Okay,” she said, “take the money and help some people.”
It took me a while, but I finally figured out that the best use of the money was to buy protein bars, baloney, bread, cheese, and mayonnaise and make sandwiches. We had enough for ten.
Back at the park I proceeded to pass out sandwiches. “Don’t just give them a sandwich,” she said. “Aren’t you going to sit down beside them and talk for a while? They’re not just hungry for food. They need some understanding and compassion. Most people are way too busy to take time for these folks.”
I was very uncomfortable when I tried to engage some in conversation. These were not my type of people.
I figured that we would be there 15 or 20 minutes—tops. Three hours later I had missed most of the football game on television. However, I wouldn’t exchange those hours for anything.
The next Sunday after church she did it again. With $10 in my pocket, we headed down town to the park. No one was in sight. The temperature in Tucson was well over 110 degrees. No one was outside.
I noticed a thrift shop down the street. I entered to help someone in need. The sole woman in the store was buying used clothes and broken toys for her two children. I watched her struggle with the thought of each purchase. “I’ll help her,” I thought, “I’ll buy those things for her.”
I approached the register and said, “I’d like to buy those things for you.”
She looked at me with angered indignation, “I don’t need your help or your sympathy. I have money. I’m a schoolteacher. I have a salary. Leave me alone.” Teachers don’t make much money.
Outside, my daughter said, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”
Imagine the impact an exercise like this can make on your child.
Take time to teach your child how to pray for those who hurt.
8. Use John 3:16 to tie the sufferings of Jesus to the sufferings of world.
Cindy, I know that you will add your own thoughts as you explain these “grown up issues” to your five-year-old. I hope that my thoughts help you start out in the right direction.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: March 10, 2016