Data suggests that most faith objections of children today involve some sort of unanswered intellectual skepticism. Young people struggle to answer tough questions from a Christian perspective. This is certainly applicable as children try to make sense of the hate, suffering, and evil in our broken world.
Christian skeptics often cite the problem of evil as the primary reason they don’t follow Jesus. Many times these skeptical questions begin in childhood and go unanswered/unprocessed throughout adulthood. The thought-process typically goes something like this:
Why are people so hateful and mean to one another? Why did a natural disaster kill thousands of people? Why do people contract sickness and disease?
Why does a good and loving God allow evil and suffering?
If God were all-loving, He wouldn’t allow it.
If He were all powerful, He would eradicate it.
So God must be either unloving, or not powerful - and that’s not a God worth following.
We live in a broken world with a very real enemy. Kids figure out early on that evil is real and bad things happen to good people. It’s important that they have a safe place to process these deep emotions and very personal experiences. As they grow, we can help children see who Satan is, what he tries to do, and that God is far more powerful.
Satan is a fallen angel who hates Gods and tempts us to disobey God. His motives are to steal, destroy, and deceive (John 10:10, 2 Cor 11:3). Satan uses spiritual forces to try to keep us from loving God and following Jesus. Satan, also known as the devil, is very tricky: he doesn’t seem evil all of the time. He will try to trick us into thinking that his ideas and plans are actually good (when they definitely are not).
Satan’s schemes are purely evil and he does not mean anything for good. At the same time, there are countless examples of God allowing evil in order to serve His greater purposes, for His glory. "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28).
The story of Joseph shows us that suffering can be used for character refinement. Through the evil he faced, Joseph became a powerful agent for social justice and spiritual healing (for both his family and the nation).
1. Provide a safe place for questions. As uncomfortable and painful as it is to discuss, don’t always give into the instinct to brush over your child’s questions with immediate positivity. It’s natural to switch the subject to a lighter topic, but that won’t help your child process a very real concern in our broken world. Particularly as your child grows into adolescence, give them space to process, question, think, and even doubt. Doubts about God are never a problem…unprocessed doubts are.
2. Study it yourself. Many parents can’t help their children understand Satan and evil because they themselves don’t fully understand it. Even if you didn’t need to overcome this intellectual barrier with evidence and arguments in order to keep your faith in Jesus, your child very well might. Make sure you feel comfortable and confident to give space and help guide your child as they try to understand this fundamental problem in our world.
3. Keep it age-appropriate. There’s a reason the full story of Job isn’t in most Early Childhood editions of Bibles. It’s not because the entire breadth of God’s Word isn’t profitable for teaching (2 Tim 3:16). Rather, there are certain logical difficulties with stories like Job that cause more issues than solutions for young children. The problem of evil is an incredibly nuanced and difficult theological concept to fully understand.
There’s no need to give children nightmares about a very real spiritual enemy that is “prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). For young children, it’s perfectly okay to keep the discussion focused on the fact that we live in broken world and God loves us.
4. Provide hope. While the temptations of the devil and problem of evil are very real, we have so much hope because the battle is already won! We know how the story ends: Jesus has victory over Satan, death, and evil…forever (Gen 3:15, 1 Cor 15:57).
The essence of the gospel message is that God gave us free will to love Him. In our rebellion, we choose to distance ourselves from God by making sinful and selfish choices. That sin breaks our world and our relationships with each other and most importantly, with God.
And the Good News is that God loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to overcome the world. Jesus says, in John 16:33, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Jesus’ entire mission is to reconcile people to God and to restore all that is broken.
Psalm 145:8-13 God’s love overcomes everything
Revelation 12:1-13:1 Jesus overcomes the devil
Romans 12:21 We can conquer evil by doing good
Revelation 21:4-5 God will wipe away every tear as He makes all things new
Resource for parents: The Reason for God by Tim Keller
Resource for teenagers: Can I Ask That? Volume 2: More Hard Questions About God & Faith by Jim Candy, Brad Griffin, and Kara Powell
Parenting for Faith article: Talking to Our Kids About the Devil
Christian Parenting article: What to Teach About Satan
The Gospel Project article: How to Talk About Evil With Preschoolers