My husband and I have been raising L as a Christian since she was born, since were both believers, but it has definitely been getting trickier in the last 6 months (from L aged 3.5 to nearly 4). I think Easter 2006 was the first festival that really registered at a theological level (Christmas 2005 did a bit), and I have had a number of theological discussions with her since then. I am trying quite hard both to answer her questions and not to tell her things that I would have to contradict at a later date. (Im obviously simplifying and omitting a lot, but thats a different matter). Shes now getting to the age where she can remember (if somewhat at random) what people say, so my consistency, at least is becoming more important.
My problems so far seem to fall into three main categories:
1) The theologically unexpected question
L followed up a question on Can you open a tin without a tin-opener? with Can God open a tin without a tin-opener? The theologically correct answer is, of course Yes (its definitely included within omnipotence), but I felt the need to add to this that although God could do this, he wouldnt do it, because it was a silly thing to do and God wasnt silly. We have also since then had Does God ever have a runny nose? (which again I think is probably excluded by omnipotence), Is God a man or a woman? (I argued for neither: even if you take God as male, as Christian tradition has it, he is not a man and that is the point) and What can God do that I can do as well? (The answer is Love people). These questions are tricky in the sense that there is no pre-existing theological answer (if only Augustine had had his young son around when he was doing theology, we might have got some of then), but I can usually come up with some vaguely logical answer. If L notices more inconsistencies when she grows up, I can point out that the problem is that God is beyond our human understanding in many ways, so descriptions of him are inevitably analogous and imperfect.
2) Dont believe all you sing or pray
I was pleased that L was learning Away in a manger, until she came up with the killer question. The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes / But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. Why doesnt Baby Jesus cry? We know Jesus cried as an adult, why shouldnt he have done so as a baby? If he was truly human as a baby, then he would have howled when he was hungry or wet or for lots of other reasons. I couldnt come up with a good answer to this one. I have also had a tricky theological time with guardian angels. They crop up in several prayers and Christian picture books L has and she likes the whole concept of angels watching over her while she sleeps. Im not sure how theologically sound the concept is, however, so I am trying to downplay it a bit.
Hearing about the Easter story is the first time L came across the concept of death. As a result, she doesnt yet have any sense that death is permanent and irreversible and that what Jesus did in dying and then rising is in any way unusual. Weve also told her the idea of heaven and she likes the sound of this, so she comes out sometimes with some fairly morbid sounding comments. (Her best ever was Dont worry if I die when Im a child, because God will be my daddy and Jesus will be my mummy – which makes me vaguely wonder if shes going to grow up to be Julian of Norwich). My view is that she will in time inevitably face and become conscious of the sadness of death, whether of elderly relatives, animals or in other ways; I dont feel the need to hurry up this realisation. If she shares our belief that death is not the end then that will be a support for her when she does have to learn about the pain of death.
Alongside these questions which, however, inadequately, Im trying to answer, Im also conscious of the one that is going to be really hard in a few years time, that is lurking on the horizon now. The problem of why God allows suffering. There are theological answers to the problem of theodicy, but as academic/detached answers theyre never convincing (compare CS Lewis in The problem of pain and A grief observed). I guess all I will be able to say in the end is I dont know, but I still believe in a loving God and hope that the God-inspired goodness that she sees in the people around her (including, I hope, but am rather unconvinced, in me), will seem to her confirmation of this.