Do Your Kids Know Why They Need God?

Do Your Kids Know Why They Need God?

A few months ago, my 6-year-old daughter asked a question that has had me thinking ever since:

Mommy, why does God matter so much?

It was the most fundamental of questions, really. Yet I was embarrassingly uncertain of how to answer it in a way that meaningfully encapsulates the full answer for her. I’ve thought about the question many times since she first asked it, and it’s always bothered me that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on how best to reply.

Meanwhile, in the last several months, I happen to have read a lot of “deconversion” stories online (testimonies from ex-Christians of why they lost their faith). It hit me just recently that there’s a theme at the end of many such stories which ultimately points back to the answer to my daughter’s question (I’ll come back to that at the end of this post):

After people recount how they lost their faith, they often conclude their story with a glib comment of how they moved on because they “didn’t need God anymore.”

This is a strange conclusion that I think betrays a lack of deeper insight.

Here’s the deal:

If God exists, we need Him. All things were created through and for Him; He is the Source and sustainer of everything by definition. Therefore, if God exists, it’s not a choice to need Him, it’s simply a fact that we do.

If God doesn’t exist, we don’t need Him. We cannot need Him. We cannot need something that doesn’t exist.

In other words, saying that you don’t need God anymore is a nonsensical conclusion. Of course you don’t need God if He doesn’t exist. And if He does exist, you can’t choose to not need Him.

What their statement betrays, therefore, is that they had come to believe in God based on felt needs (desires) rather than on the conviction that God truly exists.

When they realized they didn’t need to believe in God to satisfy those felt needs, they simply eliminated Him from the picture and met those needs in other ways. It looks like this:

 

Desire and Conviction

 

Are Your Kids Building a Faith on Desires or Conviction?

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to inadvertently lead our kids in the dangerous direction of building a faith on felt needs rather than conviction.

I’ve noticed that deconversion stories commonly reference one of three felt needs that ex-Christians claim they don’t require God to satisfy anymore. These are instructive for us as parents, as we can see what is frequently being substituted for genuine conviction in God’s existence as the basis for belief.

 

Felt Need 1To be happy (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be happy!”)

For some strange reason, many people subconsciously believe that in order to be happy, they need to believe in God. I say “strange,” because the Bible clearly doesn’t suggest that Jesus was in the business of making people happy or comfortable. Rather, Christians are called to a life of self-sacrifice and to follow Jesus at any cost. Responding to that call results in a Christ-centered joy, but is no promise of circumstance-centered happiness.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

Let’s face it. The picture of Christianity that’s presented to kids in many churches is as rosy as punch. Lots of simple, happy songs and lessons about God’s love with an overarching tone that we all live happily ever after once we’re saved. When we fail to arm our kids with a more complete understanding of God’s nature (loving and just), the problem of evil and suffering in the world around us, and the sacrificial life we are called to live, we set them up to think being a Christian is about being happy. If the desire for happiness becomes the foundation of their belief, it’s a short step toward atheism when they realize they really can be circumstantially happy without God.

 

Felt Need 2: To be a good person (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be a good person!”)

Ex-Christians often recount their deconversion with a summary line to the effect of, “I realized I didn’t need a cosmic policeman to be a good person.” This is usually followed by some kind of pronouncement of freedom, as if the person had felt personally shackled to the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments their whole lives.

But atheists can behave as morally or more morally than Christians. The Bible says that God has given everyone a moral conscience, not just those who believe in Him (Romans 2:15). It should be no surprise that atheists can be nice people who make morally good decisions.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

It’s simple. We focus on our kids’ behavior by default. It’s 5000 percent easier to work on our kids’ behavior than it is to work on our kids’ faith development, which requires a lot of proactive effort. When parents make faith about what happens on Sunday and don’t regularly integrate faith at home, kids can easily begin to believe that being a Christian is about being nice. If kids start building their faith on the thought that Christianity is about being a good person, it’s easy to leave Jesus behind when they realize they don’t “need” God to do that.

 

Felt Need 3: To find some kind of meaning in life (Eventual revelation: “I don’t need God to live a meaningful life!”)

Earlier this year, former pastor-turned-atheist Ryan Bell commented, “Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful. Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives.”

To this I say, Mr. Bell, your meaning doesn’t mean much. But that aside, atheists like Mr. Bell can find some kind of personal meaning in life without believing in God.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

When we’re passionate about our Christian parenting, we can fall into the trap of beating our kids over the head with the idea that our lives are “all about God.” Our lives are all about God, but if we just emphasize this summary idea repeatedly without consciously addressing the why, our kids may ultimately conclude they can craft an alternative life meaning and leave God out of the picture. Building a faith on the idea that it’s the only way you can have meaning is a dangerous path. As Christians, our lives have meaning because we believe God exists; we shouldn’t believe in God because we want to have meaning.

 

So Why Do We Need God?

This comes full circle to my daughter’s question: Why does God matter so much?

Because He exists.

And if He exists, we need Him. We are dependent on Him for everything.

He is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are here to fulfill His purposes. If we live as though He doesn’t exist and we don’t need Him, our lives are like a key we keep putting in the wrong lock. We may put the key in a lock that “sort of” fits and can “sort of” move the lock around, but ultimately it won’t unlock the door to our soul’s eternal purpose.

It’s critical that we make sure our kids are building a faith based on the conviction of God’s existence and not felt needs. In my next post, I’ll be telling you about a fantastic new book coming out this week that will help you and your kids learn more about the evidence for God. Stay tuned!

Here’s a little experiment. Ask your kids tonight, “Why does God matter so much?” or, “Why do we need God?” Seeing how they respond can give you much insight into how they’re thinking about God at this point in their lives. I’d love it if you would come back and share their responses!

25 Comments

  1. Paul Short on July 29, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    I don’t follow you when you say that if god exists, then we need him. People have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel and did just fine without it. Even if god made the universe, and you want to argue that we need the things he created….that still doesn’t mean we need god, per se.

    Normally, I can follow your thinking pretty well, but in this case, I’m just not getting it.



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:05 AM

      Hi Paul,

      As an ex-Christian yourself, I think you’re following in the same logic as what I was noting from others above. 🙂

      Whether or not people live their lives “just fine” without ACKNOWLEDGING God’s existence has nothing to do with whether or not their lives are ACTUALLY dependent on Him. If God exists, and created humans, then by definition they need Him in order to even exist. But people can be “fine” (live a happy, meaningful life as a relatively moral person) without acknowledging that fact. Just because they can be “fine” in this life doesn’t mean they didn’t need God to be here in the first place, and all that that implies further about purpose.

      Also, if God exists, and if Christianity is true, then people who deny God will not be SPIRITUALLY fine after they die. To not be a Christian because people find a way to live “fine” in this life – as if they don’t need God – misses the boat completely. (I’m not saying that that’s why you personally aren’t a Christian, I’m just explaining where the logic leaves a person who thinks that way.)

      As another analogy that may or may not help, what you’re saying is like saying that an apple on the ground didn’t need the tree even if the tree is indeed where it came from. You’re saying the apple can roll around, have all its properties, be eaten, etc. – be “just fine” – without the tree. But if the tree exists, and that’s where the apple came from, it doesn’t make sense to say the apple didn’t need the tree.

      I hope that better explains the point I’m making. 🙂



      • Bill Arends on August 24, 2015 at 12:18 PM

        Natasha

        While I love your Blog and I entirely agree we need God and for a multiplicity of reasons most coming from the belief in the Holy Spirit and from the idea that Creation is ongoing, I seem to agree with Paul. If something exists it does not follow that we need it. You have supplied good reasons why we need God but those reasons have little or no connection to the idea that “If God exists, we need Him.” You can argue that if God as define in the Bible existed then humankind needed him and continue to need him but not that simply existing means we have need of him. I lost my father when I was two years old, yes I needed him to exist, do I have need of him now no, but it would have been nice. The world has need of God for many reasons but not simply because he exists the logic does not follow. God really matters because he improves us, he matters because we owe him our lives he matters because he makes the world a better place by influencing our lives. His simple existence is true in my belief but there is no way you are going to convince an unbeliever that his simple existence makes us need him. I think my father would have made my life easier but did I need him? I don’t know. My life might actually have been worse because I might not have gone to church (he didn’t). So I hold to the argument that I need God for many reasons but not simply because he exists.



        • Natasha Crain on September 16, 2015 at 1:10 PM

          Hi Bill, To clarify, just because we need God in many ways as we experience life (as you point out) doesn’t negate the fact that at a more foundational level we wouldn’t even exist if He hadn’t created us. I’m simply speaking to that bare bones level of “need.” It’s important to note that this isn’t an argument to convince anyone of God’s existence; it’s simply to point out that IF (a creator) God exists, then we can’t choose to not need Him – we already needed him to come into existence in the first place. We indeed need him for many reasons, and CERTAINLY not simply because He exists. But we need Him for at LEAST that and all else flows from there. I don’t know if that makes my point more clear or more confusing. 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your comment.



  2. Patrick on July 29, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    I appreciate you raising this question!

    A couple years back I was encouraging my teenage son to find a summer job:

    “Why do I need a job?”

    “To earn money.”

    “Why do I need money?”

    “To start paying for things you may want.”

    “Like what?”

    His line of questioning made me realize that he had a fairly comfortable life, and wanted nothing badly enough to help him see a value in getting a job. (Granted, there are other good reasons; e.g., character building, etc., but we didn’t get there…)

    The above exchange came to mind when I read your post. I see this issue – “Why do I need God?” – as being a huge question, not just for kids, but many adults as well in Western culture. For most people, life can seem to appear to work just fine for the most part without God. Saying “we are dependent on Him for everything” becomes abstract.

    I’m not sure that simply saying we need him “because He exists”, and that “we are here to fulfill His purposes”, while true, is going to bridge that gap to help people see they need Him. The larger answer is that we are broken sinners, separated from Him, and cannot make sense of ourselves and the world apart from Him. But that’s still a hard thing to communicate in a culture where things seem to be fine on a day to day basis…



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      Hi Patrick,

      I totally agree it can be abstract! Some examples (like the lock I mentioned or the apple I mentioned in my comment to Paul above) can be helpful in cases like this.

      Nonetheless, I think it’s the fundamental starting point for all further discussion. Otherwise, the answer can be built on the wrong foundation (like the felt needs I discussed in this post).

      If God doesn’t exist, then everything about being broken sinners (including the concept of sin itself), the idea of separation, etc., becomes irrelevant. I think that Christians often jump too quickly to telling the “big story” of salvation history without establishing the plausibility for God’s existence in the first place. If someone doesn’t believe there’s any room for belief in God, the rest becomes meaningless. That’s why my posts often point back to the “if God exists, then… and if God does not exist, then…” distinction. I hope to help parents guide their own kids through thinking about those implications. In this case, if God exists, then we logically can move on to the fact that we need Him by definition and any arguments to the contrary (such as that we can get by fine in this life without Him) become illogical.

      It IS hard to communicate that to people, as you say. But I believe we have a better chance of getting people who say they don’t need God to think critically if we say, “If we play devil’s advocate for a second, and say that we know a creator God exists, would you agree that we need Him for our existence by definition?” If they say yes, then the conversation moves into the evidence for God. If they say no, then the conversation moves into explaining how that isn’t a logical conclusion (for the reasons I tried to explain in this post).

      Thanks for the comment!



  3. Wintery Knight on July 29, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Sometimes, I think the biggest problem facing Christianity is that we treat it like a consumer good, and not even one designed to do a job, but one designed to make us have happy feelings. No one seems to believe anymore that Christianity has value in the same way that math and science have value – because they provide us with knowledge of the way the world really is, so that we can make accurate decisions on a whole host of challenges that we face as human beings. A good worldview is like a good pair of glasses. It’s not meant to be for fun, it’s meant to be for truth.



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Agreed, Wintery Knight…well said. Thank you!



    • Andrew on July 29, 2015 at 7:59 PM

      If there was a thumbs up button, this is the comment I would click.



    • Scott Hardin on July 30, 2015 at 8:22 AM

      Amen Wintery night. Well said. Christianity truly is is as important for our kids and people to learn as Math and English and Reading. Without it, so much of the world and its context and workings is confusing. It is truly been the Enemies best ploy to attack at the point of removing discussion and teaching of Christianity from our schools and public works.

      Thank you Natasha, I only just joined your blog and have already gained tremendous thought and insight from your line of conversation and thinking. I too am a USC grad and when I read your story I knew I wanted to follow your blog. Thank you
      Scott



  4. Laura Gong on July 29, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    I asked my 16-year-old daughter. She said, “hope!” …I read your blog entry to her and she liked it. 🙂



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:41 AM

      Thanks so much for sharing! Hope was actually one of the felt needs I was going to address when I wrote this but the post got too long and I cut it (we have hope because we believe God exists, but we shouldn’t believe God exists because we have a felt need for hope). I’m glad you had the opportunity to read this with her!



  5. alysa on July 29, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    I asked my oldest (almost 17) and she said it was too early too think about such a complex question. 🙂

    But when i pushed further she said, “because He created everything.” We chatted a bit more and agreed that sometimes we want to turn the obvious into something more complex than it really is. Like you wrote, Natasha, if God exists, we need Him because He sustains everything (whether we acknowlege that or not), and of course “You can’t choose to not need him” – that really is not a choice at all, and the crux of the question becomes whether we believe He exists or not, I think. Thank you for such a thought provoking piece; I will ask my other two about it also.



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      I love that your daughter cut right to the heart of the question! Good for her. Thank you so much for sharing her response!



  6. Amanda Moody on July 29, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    I asked my 6 year old (with some trepidation) and she replied, “Because He made everything, and if He didn’t, I wouldn’t even be here to talk about it.” I gave her a high five! If I’m doing a million other things wrong with this parenting thing, at least her dad and I are doing one thing right! 🙂



    • Natasha Crain on July 29, 2015 at 11:38 AM

      Nicely done!! Good for her! Thanks so much for sharing. And I’m pretty sure we’re all doing a million things wrong. 🙂



  7. Destiny on July 29, 2015 at 4:12 PM

    I asked my 5 year old, “Why do we need God?” She said, “He’s our Lord & Savior.” I asked her why do we need a savior, what’s he saving us from? She answered, “Because of the bad things we do, saving us because of our sins.”
    “What happens to us if we don’t get saved from our sins?” She said that we don’t go to heaven.
    She knows how to talk like a Christian already, but does she understand the legal transaction that was made on the cross, still working on that.



  8. Tera on July 29, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    My 10 year old daughter said “because he saved the world.” What do you think about that answer?



  9. Tom on July 30, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    I think another analogy that kids might also readily grasp is that a car needs the car maker somewhere along the road of life. And the Bible is something of an Owner’s Manual for taking care of the car. A car may run fine for many miles, but when something goes wrong and it needs fixing, you will probably want to take it back to the Dealer to get it fixed. Pastors as well, in that sense, are something like mechanics that help to keep the car tuned & running. I consider a large part of my job as a parent to help my kids connect with both the Manual and the Maker. I know they can take it from there.



  10. Jana on August 2, 2015 at 5:49 AM

    Hi there 🙂

    I recently started to feel challenged in the sense that I had to start teaching my children (13, 12 and 9 year olds) that being a Christian doesn’t mean that we will have it easy. I asked them how they would react if they were in a situation where they were the only one in a crowd speaking up for Jesus. We watched the God’s not dead movie and I explained how even though it is difficult, one person can make a difference when they choose to do what God wants them to do. I am in the process of training them to have a faith based on conviction and not desire. It is hard for me though. I am praying a lot through this process that Jesus would protect their hearts and their minds. I feel a bit overwhelmed though and I am not sure where to start. They recently asked me the “where does God come from” question. I answered them but I fear that I struggle to speak and explain at a level that they can understand. Could you please refer me to a book or anything that can help me to systematically explain apologetics to them at a level that they will understand?



  11. Mitch on August 30, 2015 at 7:34 PM

    Teaching kids about faith is tough – you have done a fantastic job breaking it down, Natasha! The question I have always run into is, how “real” should you be with you kiddos about the pain, suffering, and real challenges in life, while still protecting their innocence? I think you need to err on the side of preparing them with a faith that can endure the tough parts of life – as well as teach them to constantly seek God, which I talked about in this post:

    What I’m Teaching My Kids About Faith
    http://casteelamericantoughnesssquad.com/…/what-im…/

    Thanks for this post! Really enjoyed your take and perspective. Take care!



  12. Do Your Kids Know Why They Need God? on March 8, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    […] By Natasha Crain […]



  13. Andrew on June 13, 2016 at 8:13 AM

    In order to know why we need God, we need to know why Jesus died on the cross. He died on the cross for our sins. We need God because we are sinners and the penalty for sin is death. God being a loving God took the punishment for us, giving us a way out. He became human, He suffered, He died, and went to hell, taking all that we desearve and put it on his self. He defeated death and came back to life. Now having no fault He gave us an example of how we should live so that we can live eternally with Him. Simply believing gives us life, so by believing we know we are saved.

    “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his unique Son so that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life. -John 3:16 (ISV)

    Being a Christian is not just a title but a relationship with a loving God and a way of life.

    Basically sin equals death, believing in Christ who defeated death(sin), will give us LIFE. That’s why we need Him. Its a two way route, live in Christ or live in death(sin). That’s the crossroad. You choose.

    Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. -John 14:6 (ISV)