What does a parent say to their children when they ask about death, suffering, and destruction?
God is in Charge
When children see so much destruction and suffering in the world, what are we to tell them? What do we say when they see natural catastrophes like hurricanes where hundreds of people can die, and those that live through it, often lose everything they have. When they ask, “Why,” you must be prepared to answer them. If we can see from the Bible that there are at least some explanations for suffering, we can refer to the Word of God as something to fall back on, but really, we can’t explain the “why” of all suffering, except for the fact that all suffering is a result of sin. Someone may suffer or be killed, but we can’t assume it was because they were an evil person or disobeying God. There’s no way we can know that, and we should not jump to conclusions when the Bible is silent on things like this. The Bible teaches that time and chance happen to us all (Eccl 9:11), and the best answer to “Why did this happen,” is “I don’t know, but I know that God knows, and He is going to use bad things for His glory and our good, as He has done before” (Gen 50:20; John 3:16), and for those of us who trust Christ, all things will work for our good anyway (Rom 8:28). If the amount of evil looks too big to young eyes, then their (and our) view of God is too small. If they know that God is not caught by surprise, that God loves them, and whatever happens can’t separate them from God (Rom 8:38-39), then they might be a little less worried about what they are seeing on the nightly news or hearing about at school.
No Fault Tragedies
It just seems to be human nature to blame others for their own misery, and of course, many times they (and we) bring on their own suffering, but sometimes, they suffer for other people’s sins. If a drunk driver kills someone, how could we ever say or think, “Well, they had it coming to them, being on the road so late.” When people are hurt or injured, many people think the worst, and assume that they must have been doing something wrong. Innocent people are killed on the highways every day in this country, so tragedies are not always a result of a person’s sin. It could be, and it could be a result of another person’s sin, but unless we know that for sure, we’re in no position to say anything other than giving the relatives and friends our sympathy and prayers. When the Tower of Siloam fell, killing several people, many had assumed that they must have sinned. That was the frame of mind most of the religious leaders had during Jesus’ earthly ministry, so He said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5). That isn’t just instruction by Jesus. It was a rebuke because Jesus, knowing their hearts, knew that they were assuming that the Galileans or perhaps the construction workers on the tower died due to their sins. I think it’s important for children to understand that when bad things happen to people, it’s not because they are bad people.
Focus on the Future
Our church has a nursing home ministry, and in our ministry, we focus on the coming kingdom, because most of the residents there are elderly, and they’re feeling all of the aches and pains of old age. They yearn for the mortal to put on immortality (1st Cor 15). They crave the end of suffering, pain, and death, and they look forward to the day when they finally see God for the very first time (Rev 21:3; 22:4). They also are eagerly looking forward to the day of Jesus’ return, which could be at any moment, but if they simply focus on all of the suffering, destruction, and death in the world today, then it can be rather depression. Instead, it is better that they (and we) focus on the coming kingdom, and the joy of entering the presence of the Lord someday. That allows them to endure the sorrows, aches, pains, and death of their loved ones in this sin-sickened world. When the news media is focused on another great natural disaster, and there is widespread death and destruction, you can tell your children that this is all going to end someday, and that God will someday put an end to it, permanently. The day is coming when “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:6-7), and a “nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den” (Isaiah 11:8), and the very best part is, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples learned that He is Lord over creation, and why shouldn’t He be? He is Creator (John 1:1-3) and so He is Lord over the storm. Not a rain drop falls to the ground but by the sovereign will of God. If children understand that God doesn’t allow a leaf to drop from a tree without His decree, then maybe they’ll see that they have nothing to worry about in all they see. They are just as safe as being in Jesus and the Father’s own hands, something Jesus even says (John 10:28-29).