Doing Theology With Children: Grace

NRS Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–

The children gathered around me this evening to tackle a perplexing word: grace. What does it mean? Is it a good thing? How do we get it? Can we buy it? Work for it? Merit it based on our good looks, character or talent? What is it?

Hmmmm. We pondered this together. One child, a 9 year-old boy, suggested it is what we say at the dinner table. Ah. Fair point. Often we do call prayer at the table grace. I thanked him for his observation and went back to wondering, what is the kind of grace which is being talked about in Ephesians 2:8? My young fellow Bible students went back to the text and wouldn’t you know it? They found something! It is the gift of God!

But wait…. What is a gift? A 7 year-old girl reminded me that it is what we get at Christmas. Before I could reply, a 5 year-old boy pointed out, “Yea Jesus has his elves make the gifts for us!” Another girl, 8, pointed out that it is Santa, not Jesus, who has the elves. But she agreed that the elves do, indeed, make the gifts. Most of the children nodded their heads in agreement, although a couple of the oldest simply smiled as if they knew something the others didn’t.

Lest the conversation take further detours into rabbit-trail land, I asked this question, “Do your mom’s and dad’s give you gifts at Christmas?

All of them agreed that yes, this happened. Of course, some had a mom and not a dad. But the point remained, they received gifts. So I pressed the matter further, “And do you pay for the gifts with money from your piggy bank?”

The kids giggled and said, “Of course not.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Do you do chores to earn the gifts?”

Some looked at me with disbelief that I would even suggest such a notion.

Realizing that the answer was no to that question as well, I tried one last line of inquiry, “Do your parents give you gifts because of how you look, behave, or because of how much talent you have?”

As one, they shook their heads no….

“Wow, you mean to tell me that your parents give you gifts because they love you?”

They smiled. Most shook their heads yes with complete confidence.

I continued, “So the gifts you receive from your loving parents are kinda like the grace which God has given us, the gift of his Son Jesus.” Understanding began to dawn on some of them. Others pondered. On some visceral level, it made sense to them that God’s gift, his grace, should be free and not earned by any human effort. No piggy banks will be at risk in earning salvation. No completion of chores will suffice to atone for sin. No amount of talent, good looks, sparkling personality or myriad traits will do the job which only Christ Jesus could do.

As we ended our discussion, I pointed out to the children that many adults have a hard time with this. I then encouraged them saying, “But your faith in Jesus can help them understand God’s grace.”

Later, as we ate a simple snack of crackers, each child thanked me with a heightened level of sincerity which causes me to suspect they are thinking a little more deeply about this business of grace and the gift of God, and its necessary response of thankfulness.

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