The look on my 4-year-old son Williams’s face was one of confusion and bewilderment – and I knew he was preparing to toss me a theological curve ball.
We had been reading a passage out of the New Testament and discussing a simple-yet-profound concept that is taught repeatedly throughout Scripture: God sending His Son to the Earth in the form of a tiny baby.
My blue-eyed, curly-haired son knows the story about Mary, Joseph and the Christ child by heart. He even can tell you all about Easter. But on this night He was getting hung up on the roles of God the Father and God the Son – and the differences.
Finally, William spit it out: “So, Dad, are there two Jesuses?”
For much of his short life, William has been the king of crazy questions. When learned that his yet-to-be-born baby brother would not immediately be able to crawl or walk, he asked: “So, he won’t have legs?” When I told him that Noah was 600 when he built the ark, William asked, innocently, “Is that older than grandpa?”
But as much as I wanted to toss his theological question into the “kids-say-the-darndest-things” category, I couldn’t. That’s because for weeks and weeks, I had been teaching him that Jesus is God, but on this night I was telling him that Jesus was being sent by God. Let’s be honest: Unless you’ve been in church culture your entire life, that concept certainly sounds confusing.
So is Jesus God, or was He sent by God? Or to put it into the 4-year-old vernacular, are there two Jesuses?
The Bible is full of hard-to-understand concepts – for preschoolers and adults. For example, it teaches that Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man. Here’s another one: Jesus, as a child, simultaneously knew nothing and everything. Huh?
You see, parents aren’t all that much different from my 4-year-old son. We, too, are struggling to grasp some of Scripture’s most incredible concepts. We want God to be explained to us, in detail, and preferably in the next five minutes by PowerPoint. But if God could be so easily explained, He wouldn’t be God, would He?
The good news, though, is that Christian parents don’t have to be theologians in order to teach their children about the Trinity – or any other hard-to-understand concepts. All we have to do is teach what the Bible teaches, and go no further.
In fact, as I have learned, children are far more accepting of difficult-to-understand truths than are adults. That night, I told my 4-year-old son the same thing I would tell a 44-year-old co-worker, or any other adult. Here’s what I said:
God is three persons. But God isn’t a “person” in the way that we normally use that word. This simply is a way to distinguish the three members of the Trinity: The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. For children, the story of Jesus’ baptism, where all three members of the Trinity are present, is beneficial. Analogies also can be helpful, as long as we understand their limitations. For example: Water can be three states (liquid, solid and gas), yet unlike the Trinity it cannot be three states at the exact same time. But if such an illustration proves helpful, go for it.
Each person is God. Remember all of those times we and our kids sang “happy birthday, Jesus,” complete with candles and cake? We were only telling half the story. Yes, God the Father was present at creation (Genesis 1:1), but so was Jesus (John 1:1-4), and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2). The Bible clearly teaches that all three members of the Trinity are God (John 20:28, Isaiah 9:6, Acts 5:3-4, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Perhaps it’s fine to sing “happy birthday” to the baby Jesus each December, but we really should point out that Jesus already existed. And, no, we’re not a party pooper for doing so.
There is one God. This is the easiest concept for children, simply because all of us – as Pascal suggested long ago – have a God-shaped hole that only He can fill. In other words, we were born to worship this one God. And from Genesis through Revelation, the Bible teaches (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Romans 3:30) that He is the only God that exists.
My son hasn’t asked any follow-up questions since that night, but if he does, that’s OK. That’s because on this issue, he and I are both on the same level – striving for a child-like faith to accept whatever the Bible teaches about this amazing God that we worship and serve.
Michael Foust is the father of four small children and blogs about parenting at MichaelFoust.com
“Systematic Theology,” Wayne Grudem (for adults).
“Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Trinity,” Joey Allen (for children).