Over the last two weeks I’ve been discussing guidelines to follow when we answer our kids’ questions about the Bible. Today we continue with part 4 of 5.
4. When we just don’t know the answer – This one is a combination of part 3 (the available, reasonable answers) and part 5 coming next Monday, which will discuss the times when none of the available explanations for a topic seem good. There are plenty of times when reasonable, possible, and even attractive answers are available for a given exegetical or theological issue but I just don’t know which one is “right”. As always, honesty here is the key.
On Monday I’ll discuss the times when, frankly, none of the available answers seem acceptable or reasonable, and there are also times when Scripture is largely or entirely silent on an issue, so any interpretation is a conjecture. But increasingly in the last few years I’ve found myself evaluating what I believe about particular doctrines and running into multiple possible answers, without being able to resolve the dissonance between them. And to be honest, I’m enjoying that process after so many years of being way too sure about everything. But as I discussed earlier in this series, kids want answers. And I’m going to tack this on here too, just because I want four sentances in a row that begin with conjunctions just to see if any English teachers reading this wet themselves involuntarily.
If we know what we believe about something, we owe it to our kids to tell them what that is. We also owe it to them to present the various reasonable answers their questions about the Bible, even the ones we don’t personally hold. Sometimes though, that second option is all we have to give them, because we haven’t gotten to the first one ourselves yet. We don’t know (or think we know) the answer. And guess what? We have to tell our kids that, too. We can’t make something up just to avoid pulling back the current of parental omniscience in front of our kids.
There is a misconception we all hold sometimes that can keep us from open, honest dialogue – the false belief that if we admit we don’t have an answer to something we will lose credibility with the people who trust us and look up to us. The opposite is in fact true. I always find myself more willing to trust those leaders who admit when they really aren’t sure which answer is best on a given problem.
By admitting to our children that there are issues big and small in the Bible that we really don’t know the answers to we are actually helping them spiritually in a number of ways. We are helping them see that no one has everything figured out. We are building trust that we will always deal honestly with them on these matters. We are helping them see the complexity and ambiguity that often accompanies Bible reading. We are removing from them the burden of ever needing to have all the answers, and the illusion that they ever can. Perhaps most importantly, we are helping them love the Bible as something other than a textbook of doctrinal exam preparation.
I don’t know can be a frustrating thing to admit, but it can also be freeing. When your kids ask you a question you don’t have an answer for, tell them so. If you’re doing your job of sharing the available answers that others hold to, this is can be an opportunity to work through some of them together. You may still not have an answer when you’re done, but helping them realize they won’t ever have all the answers either is itself a valuable lesson.