"What?" I asked. All the while thinking, "What have I done wrong with this child?"
"Well, He's not real. You can't see Him. You can't touch Him. He's not real like us."
Ahh. I began to see an inkling of what she was saying. I began to understand that we were dealing with a lack of vocabulary, not a lack of faith.
"Do you mean that He's not a solid person or thing?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "He's not real."
What followed was a conversation about how God is real; He's just not tangible. We can't see or touch Him. We have to look at all the evidence that He exists and decide to take it on faith that He exists and that He loves us.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Children are very concrete thinkers. Something either is or it isn't. This whole idea of a great big God that we can't see is a pretty abstract concept. To help them fully understand who God is and that He exists, we have to take Him out of the realm of the abstract and bring Him into the realm of the concrete.
Point out the evidence for God every chance you get. We were walking to the neighbor's house the other morning when we passed a yard filled with morning glories. I was explaining to my girls that these flowers only bloomed in the morning. My older daughter looked at me and said, "I wouldn't have thought of that." This is our catchphrase when we're awed by God's creation. God did some crazy things when He created the world. He made elephants, the largest land mammal in the world, walk almost completely silently. He made flowers that only bloom in the morning and other flowers that only bloom at night. He made a lizard that changes colors. These are all evidence for His existence, and I know that my little brain couldn't have thought up a tiny portion of the amazing things God made. When we point these things out to our kids, we are encouraging them to notice the evidence for God's existence.
Give credit where credit is due. Too often, we're willing to chalk up divine appointments to coincidence. Yet nothing happens by coincidence. God shows up in our lives every day. We need to acknowledge those times when He does. If your child tells you about something that happened at school -- they remembered the answers for a test just when they needed them or a friend said just the right thing to them -- remind your child that God had a hand in that. God knows what we need, and He gives it to us. We simply have to acknowledge that it's God who made it happen.
Don't put God in a box. Our finite brains have trouble with the concept of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-encompassing God. We want God to be a size that our brains can comprehend. But He's not. He's bigger and better and more awesome that we can even imagine. Avoid trying to bring God down to a size we can understand. When your kids have questions about God that you can't answer, simply tell them that we don't know. Make a list with them of questions they'd like to ask God. Then explain that God has plans that we can't even begin to know about. He does things for a reason, and because His ways are so much better than ours, we can trust that His plans are good.
In a sense, my younger daughter was right. God isn't real in the sense that we can touch Him and understand Him. He's so much more than that. Yet, despite the fact we can't see Him, we can help our kids understand that the evidence that He exists is overwhelming and the evidence that He loves us is even more so.