God Is Love - A Child's Concept
I was five. It was my first experience with Sunday School. "God is love," explained the teacher. I did not know about God. "God loves you like your father and mother love you." I knew about love. My mother loved me. Now I knew about God and His love. Or did I?
We had walked many blocks to church that morning. On the way home my legs began to ache. I begged her to rest just a few minutes on one of the many benches along the way. Finally the pains became so great that I sat down on the curb. She jerked me up and forced me to continue. My mother loved me. God loved me.
Earlier that week she had taken my most prized possession, a set of colored pencils, broken each of them, and thrown them out in the mud. I had been asking too many questions. Forty-five years later God would lead me down a path, which would cause intense physical pain. Then he would force me to continue my journey through life with no respite. And he would take my most prized possessions -- possessions I was using to glorify Him -- a good mind, an ability to learn, and a talent to write, break each of them, and cast them out of my reach. God loved me. Or, did I have an erroneous concept of God's love?
As we encounter new experiences we interpret them in view of past experiences. That is why a wise teacher explains a new concept in terms with which a child is familiar. Jesus, himself, taught in this manner. He illustrated His lessons with things familiar to His hearers. My teacher had presented her lesson well.
But, had I received the message, which she intended for me to receive? To her, a mother's love was tender and compassionate. It found joy in a child's joy. It was pleased with any effort, no matter how insignificant the results. To me, an unwanted and abused child, a mother's love was one devoid of tenderness and compassion. It was a love that found pleasure in destroying anything in which I found pleasure. And it was a love that could not be pleased no matter how hard I tried. The teacher and I said the same words -- but how different the connotations!
There is no way that we can ever be fully aware of another's background. Even those of the same family living under the same roof may have vastly different experiences as they journey through life. And, each responds in his own way. Unlike the Master Teacher, we do not know what is in the thoughts of man (John 16:19). But, as teachers of God's word and communicators of God's love we should be aware that the message received may be entirely different than the one sent.
Explain clearly. Use a variety of familiar terms. Get feedback. Ask questions. Ask the hearer to explain it to you in his own words. Especially, ask him to give examples.
AND LISTEN. Listen to their responses. Listen to their questions. Listen to their childish chatter before and after classes. Listen when they are not aware of your presence. You just may pick up a clue that some child has received an entirely different message than that which you intended him to receive.
Above all -- LISTEN WITH YOUR HEART! My minister picked up on a clue when I asked him why God "made" me suffer so much. Possibly some would have assumed that, indeed, I was suffering because I questioned God. But he was listening with his heart. He realized that I had an erroneous concept of God. I did not conceive of God as one who would walk with me and comfort me amidst the fire of pain (Daniel 3:25), but rather as one who inflicted the pain, then made me go on without any comfort. That one erroneous concept had influenced the perspective from which I later read God's word. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he shall not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). An equally important truth is that a child who is trained in the wrong way may never depart from that way.
The concept of God that a five-year old forms may be the concept of God that he will carry with him throughout his life. Therefore, it is imperative that we make every effort: first, to make certain that we, ourselves, have the proper concept of God; and then, to see that the message he receives about God is indeed the one we intend for him to receive.
Sandra F. Cobble
Published in The Old Paths Archive