Theology for toddlers

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May 28, 2015

The cover of the children’s book, Where is God? published by skylightpaths.com 

<p>The cover of the children&rsquo;s book, Where is God? published by <a href="https://www.skylightpaths.com/mm5/merchant.mvc">skylightpaths.com</a>&nbsp;</p>

Here’s an unusual question: Do the children in your life read theology books?

It might seem odd to combine a big, academic word like theology (the study of God, or God-talk) with young children, but I wanted to talk about a book that combines these two worlds seamlessly. Around my son’s first birthday, I found the book Where is God? by Jewish authors Lawrence and Karen Kushner at my neighbourhood bookstore. [1] It’s one of those nice thick board books, so the pages aren’t in danger of being ripped to shreds. I got it for my toddler son, thinking that it was about time for him to read his first theology book.

It’s more common, I think, to teach young children Bible stories, and we have a children’s Bible and other Bible story books that we also read at our house. But this book moves in a slightly different direction, toward asking a profound question about God, wondering about where God is at work in the world today, not just throughout history (though of course that helps us know where to look for God today). This question obviously changes as we grow in our understanding of the world, but it doesn’t go away as we become adults.

Where is God? is part of a series that teaches “spirituality” to young children. On the inside cover, it says that “each child develops an image of God by age 5, with or without religious instruction.” Most parents are concerned to get children school-ready by reading about “letters, numbers, shapes, colours, and safety, but do we give their minds the early food they need to think about life’s bigger questions?” The premise is that toddlers aren’t too young to start thinking theologically, that they need those seeds to be planted early to have a robust image of God and a faith that doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions.

As a theologian and mother, I think this book helps young children to have a sense of God being encountered in their contemporary lives, of God being alive in the world, and of their own abilities to meet and image God by thinking creatively and imaginatively outside the boxes we adults sometimes try to put God in. It encourages them to explore and seek God, not just accept abstract and petrified images of God—to themselves undertake the task of theologizing, not simply accept the sometimes lifeless theologies of others.

The book talks about God being at the beginning of things, “in the tiny hands of a baby” and in “the first red tomato” in the garden. It also talks about God at the end of things, in goodbyes and “in the last years of life.” It talks about God being in other people and the way we care for one another, and it talks about God being present in creation and animals. All of these images are taken from little kids’ experiences, and yet they say something profound about God. The book ends by saying that “God is everywhere”—in other words, that God infuses the world, and is omnipresent, transcendent yet immanent, and always with us.

What a great introduction to these profound theological mysteries, complete with beautiful illustrations depicting kids and adults of all different ethnicities playing, eating, and interacting in various ways. If there is a young child aged newborn to 4 in your life, I encourage you to find this book at your public library or local bookstore for them. It’s really never too early to start reading theology!

[1] Lawrence and Karen Kushner, illus. Dawn W. Majewski, Where is God? (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Pub., 2011).

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The cover of the children’s book, Where is God? published by skylightpaths.com 

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