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Children have an in-built awareness of God as loving creator, writes Ivan Grindlay. The great mystery for children is knowing ''why life is''.
Child interviewer Art Linkletter's catchphrase was ''Don't kids say the darnedest things?'' As their horizons expand, so do their discoveries, satisfying themselves about the deeper mysteries of life.
Asking children questions of a spiritual nature to gauge their level of understanding is enlightening.
''Do you believe in God?'' Interestingly, those who don't (about 10%) struggle with the next question: ''What does it mean to believe?''
Those who do, suggest belief is ''to have faith or trust in someone, bringing assurance that God exists and is true''. Just 3% do not answer - and that percentage is growing.
Innate in a child's nature is trust in authority figures - parents, teachers, grandparents, leaders and neighbours.
Such confident trust will progressively develop unless betrayed by behaviour contrary to their expectations - anger, deceit, greed, bad language, moral unfaithfulness or lack of love and encouragement.
The result is often devastating. Their fragile frame of reference is shattered by unexpected adult attitudes that invariably attack Christianity.
Children assume they must adopt these dogmatic presuppositions on spiritual issues out of obligation or fear.
Perceiving God as loving Creator and Jesus Christ as the Son of God is normal for most children. This in-built awareness (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 1:19-20), though not fully understood, brings a sense of stability and accountability to a higher being who has their best interests at heart.
''God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.''
(John 3:16-17) This Christian message of hope is foundational and reassuring. Adults who don't regard themselves as subject to God effectively dethrone Him in their hearts, assuming themselves to be gods.
Deluded, they impose their scepticism and unbelief on their children without respecting the child's right to weigh the facts for themselves.
There is nothing quite so sad as a child whose spiritual perception and potential has been stunted or munted by a disillusioned or bigoted adult who has summarily dismissed the spiritual realm and given up on God for whatever reason.
Choosing to ignore the overtures of a loving God in their lives, they become conditioned by the vitriolic drip-fed speculations of public opinion, the social media and commentators without a moral compass.
It is reprehensible that they should superimpose their untested and misguided assumptions on impressionable children before they can make up their own minds.
It is alarming to hear children parrot adult opinion without understanding why. In effect, they are brainwashed and spoiled for life . . . but for the grace of God.
They fail to understand they are spiritual beings having a passing earthly experience.
Given opportunity, children will explore the truth of God amid the morass of constant speculation. They discover those delusional assumptions of society that are so misleading and erroneous.
In time, they learn of the greatest sacrifice of love ever recorded was the gift of a long-suffering God, who in mercy gave His holy Son to redeem the unholy (Romans 5:8).
The great mystery for children is knowing ''why life is''. Are they just an accident, a reed in the wind so vulnerable and easily exploited? Will they discover the meaning of life as a prelude to what is to come?
The great assumption is that when one is finally laid in a casket, divine emotion will be overwhelmed by the sorry sight and, weighing up the good against the bad, will overlook the spiritual ignorance of the departed.
How appallingly ignorant and naive! (cf. Acts 17:30) Who would want to enter heaven where evil is overlooked and lifestyles remain contrary to divine design? It wouldn't be heaven!
What we believe and pursue in this life holds the key to the next.
So ''why churches in our community?'' I groan in despair at the endless dribble of commentators and blind leaders who, like the Pharisees of old, will be condemned by Jesus for honouring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15:8-9).
They propagate lifeless religious dogma that constantly distracts and deviates from revealed truth that can set one free. They wallow in self-aggrandisement, providing no hope for anyone, let alone the child emerging in a wayward society.
One final question, among others, I ask of children: ''If you had the power to change three things in the world today, what might they be?''
Quite apart from the childlike quips offered: ''A world made of Lego''; ''I wish I was 18''; and ''Having no sisters'', they offer some surprising revelations.
''I wish I could change my Dad'', or ''I wish there were no wars and violence''; ''Stop disease spreading''; or ''Why don't more people trust God?''. Mmmm, now there's a question to ponder!
Our children are perceptive, aren't they. (Matthew 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29) Let's not mislead them ... or underestimate them!
Their childlike faith is the essence of the Kingdom. (Matthew 18:2-4)
Ivan Grindlay is an elder at Caversham Community Church.