Right now my daughter Maddy doesn’t see the beauty of the storm. She is afraid of thunder and lightning. She could be dead asleep and, within minutes of the first crash of thunder, she’s awake, alert, and calling for mommy or daddy. Her fear has come into focus this summer because in South Carolina, we’ve had a flood of rain this year.
When these quick storms first began, I found myself comforting my daughter by saying something like, “Don’t worry. God created the thunder and you don’t have anything to worry about.”
It’s true that she doesn’t have much to worry about in our home when it’s thundering and lightning outside, but the more I thought about the way I approached this situation, the more I realized that I was comforting my children in this way a lot of the time. I was taking the easy way out, promising comfort in exchange for tears.
Then it hit me. The gospel I was rehearsing to them was a health and wealth gospel, a skewed view of God’s sovereignty in pain and suffering.
“God loves you, so nothing bad will happen.”
“You don’t need to worry about living in a fallen world if you just have enough faith.”
“The reality of suffering will never touch you.”
If we preach this kind of gospel to our children now, how will they respond when sin touches their life? How will they respond when they see death ravage a loved one? How will they respond when they are ridiculed by their peers?
We do serve the God who created all things with the power of his word. He does providentially control all of creation. He does sovereignly work things for our good in Christ. But sometimes that means we will suffer. My children need to know this.
As I talked to friends with children and also recalled interactions, I’ve heard between parents and kids, I don’t think this approach is uncommon. As I said, it’s easy. It doesn’t require us to engage in hard conversations. But I want to offer a gospel-motivated, gospel-driven alternative for us as parents. Here are four ways that we can avoid health and wealth parenting.
1. Teach Our Children to Rest in the Love and Sovereignty of God
First, we must urge our children to trust the God who loves us and is sovereign over everything. We must not downplay these truths. They are not in opposition; rather they fit together like a puzzle. The sovereignty of God is not a hammer. It’s a pillow and blanket. The most fearful thing I can think of is living in a world where God is not in control, where he is taken by surprise, where he loves us but is powerless over our suffering.
The love of God is not squishy like a jellyfish. He doesn’t love us in a way that’s not tangible. He loves us in the form of Jesus Christ. God sent his own Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. If God uses “the hands of lawless men” who would crucify Jesus, for his “definite plan” (Acts 2:23), he will use our suffering in his plan as well. These two truths are bound together eternally. You will not find God’s love expressed outside of his sovereign control. Our kids must see that God’s sovereignty is never expressed outside of his love.
2. Teach our Children to Pursue Jesus
Second, we must urge our children to steadfastly pursue Jesus. Jesus is their only hope. They have no other. If they pursue health, it will fail. If they pursue wealth, it will destroy them. If they pursue relationships, they will be let down. If they pursue fame, it bring them low. These are all things that when sought lead to destruction. But Jesus does not fail. He does not destroy. He does not let down. He does not bring low. He exalts.
If you teach your children to pursue to Jesus, they will lack nothing. He is pleasures forevermore. The loss of everything compared to gaining Jesus will in the end seem light and momentary. That can be hard to fathom now, but it will not be hard when our King returns.
Not only does he provide joy and hope in the midst of suffering, he also suffers alongside of us. He obeyed the law perfectly. He loved well. He lived life to its fullest. And he also suffered. Because of that, he knows what suffering feels like (Heb. 2:18). That’s important. You can also see how Jesus cares for others who suffer when he comforts Mary and Martha when Lazarus dies (John 11:1-45). He is genuinely sorrowful. He mourns with them. He is moved to tears by the suffering of his friends. We can expect Christ to have the same compassion with us. When pursued, Jesus provides joy and hope and he does so experientially.
3. Rehearse the Gospel through Tough Conversations
Third, we must rehearse the gospel through tough conversations. My oldest daughter Claire has often asked me, “Will you get old and die?” It’s odd that a child would think about death, but it is a reality in our world. Everyone dies. It would be easy to brush off her question and respond with something like, “Dad will never leave you. Don’t worry about that.” It’s a lot more beneficial to speak age appropriately and candidly. Something like, “Daddy will die someday. Death isn’t the way it should be. But you know something? We belong to God in life and death. He has promised to be faithful all the way until the end. Just like he’s faithful to me, he’ll be faithful to you. No matter what.”
Tough conversations are an opportunity to rehearse the gospel with our children. These are practice runs. These truths aren’t dusty. Everyone will meet circumstances where only the gospel makes sense of life. Rehearsing the gospel by having tough conversation prepares our children to respond well when those times come.
Athletes practice and practice and practice more to create muscle memory. They want to repeat their route, the play, or the motion so many times that when game time comes their bodies react instinctively. That’s gospel rehearsal. It’s spiritual muscle memory. We repeat the promises of God. We point them to Jesus Christ. We sear Scripture into their hearts. We teach them how to pray. These kinds of conversations may raise more questions. That’s okay. Without being candid with them, when “the sea billows roll,” our children may falter. With tough conversations rooted in gospel rehearsal, they will see the other side.
4. Respond Well When Suffering Comes
Finally, we must respond well when suffering comes. It will arise in some form or another. Some of us may fight cancer. Some of us might grieve over the death of a loved one. Some of us might fight against abuse. Some of us might feel the weight of injustice. Some of us might be killed. We shouldn’t downplay suffering. It’s a result of the Fall. But God will wipe away all tears and make all things new when he returns. We must stomp our feet, mourn, and be righteously angry over the sin and suffering that we experience in this world. But we must do this with Jesus Christ in view. We must suffer well.
We respond well because we are in Christ. He is our Head and we are his body. He is our trailblazer. The cross is beautiful because it absorbs our sin and suffering. When we sin against others, we can boldly repent, because Jesus bears the weight of our sins. We can also forgive others for the same reason. The same goes for suffering. It is not escapism. Or cheap grace. It is weighty grace. It is grace anchored in the bloody wounds of Jesus. We must respond well when we suffer so that our children know we take God at His word and the gospel is deadly serious to us. Our kids will see this, and through it they will see Jesus.
So let’s not promise our kids health and wealth. Let’s promise them Jesus Christ in life and death. Let’s promise them a God who is faithful through anything they may experience in this fallen world.
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes. He’s married to LeAnn and they have three daughters. He also loves to read, hike in the woods, and cook. Follow him on Twitter: @GraceForSinners.