If you ask an adult for basic thoughts about God, you may find yourself either mired in a complicated philosophical discussion or greeted with a shrug and an uncomfortable glance, quickly shifting to a new topic of conversation.
But ask a child to describe God and you will have a very different experience. Children think in concrete, not abstract, ways about everything in their lives. So a God they have heard about but cannot see is a topic they can show great and imaginative interest in.
“I love the uncensored minds of children,” says Monica Parker, author of the new book “OMG!: How Children See God.” “They naturally respond to questions without concern as to what anyone thinks. Therefore, their answers are pure—sometimes sad, often funny, and even more often insightful.”
Parker worked with her son, Remy, and many other children over a period of years to gather quotes that capture the innocent observations of young souls. Here are some of her choicest findings,* which range from the whimsical to the scientific to the downright theological:
“I think that if God sleeps, he sleeps in heaven above all people. But I don’t think that God sleeps because he helps people during the nighttime when they get into car accidents and stuff.”
“God lives inside every living thing. So my doctor has seen God when he cuts people open.”
“God can grow you and he can dance but he cannot type.”
“I wish God had a phone so that I could talk to him, ‘cause I don’t know if he hears me when I’m praying.”
“God walks me to school every day so that I will be protected.”
“He cannot stop wars. He can’t stop people from dying because that’s the cycle of life. If God could, he would try to save all the people.”
—Maude Rose, 9
“God cannot create the earth because scientists discovered something about the Big Bang a few months ago.”
Inspired by Parker’s project, I reached out to Jewish families in search of more quotes from kids about God, and our community did not disappoint:
“Hashem looks like challah!”
—Chana, 3, from Arlington
“God created the world by saying, ‘Jam, jam, psshhuuuu!’ God is up as high as the sun. He sometimes might get hot.”
—Ilan, 5, from Newton
“If God dies, will we all die and the earth die, too?”
—Seneca, 6, from Arlington
“Driving from the Hong Kong airport to our hotel years ago, my then 4-year-old, Maia, saw a billboard with a picture of the Dalai Lama. She said, ‘We don’t vote for Buddha, we vote for God.’”
—Leah, from Melbourne, Australia
In response to the question, “What does God do?” Solomon, 4, from Melrose, mildly alarmed his mom by responding: “God makes light and dark. He makes people and animals. He makes stars shine and makes people do good things. Except the God in my head makes me do bad things. Maybe I should get a nicer God in my head.”
Jon, 10, from Katonah, N.Y., has always wanted to know what God created first. He said: “God looks like a spirit or a ghost with a beard. God protects people from bad things.” He added, “Prayer is a blessing and it is a way to thank God or say you are sorry.”
Ten-year-old Sadie, from Arlington, has mixed feelings about God. She said that when she was younger, she thought God looked “like a cloud mixed with a genie.” She said: “Personally, I like to think that when it rains, he’s taking a shower. But I really don’t think he does much.” About prayer, she said: “Prayer brings people together because basically you have to pray with a certain amount of people for certain prayers. I don’t think it has anything to do with God.”
Kimberlee, from Arlington, had a revealing Q&A with her 11-year-old daughter, Isabel. She prefaces it by saying, “As you can tell, she has already mastered the art of answering a question with another question!”
Q: What do you want to know about God?
“How do you know God exists if you can’t see him? Do Christians and Jews believe in the same God? If God exists, does he control what’s on TV?”
Q: What does God look like?
“Like air. He is non-corporeal.”
Q: What does God do?
“Mom, the question should be, ‘What doesn’t he do?’ I would want God to make sure the sun doesn’t die prematurely.
Q: What is prayer?
“When people talk to God.”
Q: Does God talk back?
“Not that I hear, but I don’t know.”
Q: How do you communicate with God?
“He is a mind-reader, so he just knows what I am thinking.”
Finally, my own 5-year-old son, Ben, recently had questions about whether we can see God. When we asked our rabbi about it, he replied that he believes he sees God when he looks into the eyes of other people. Ben loved this explanation and has repeated it to others. During a recent visit, our close friends’ 3-year-old came up to me after speaking with Ben. She put her hands on my cheeks, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I see God.”
I would so very much like to think so.
*Quotes from “OMG!: How Children See God” reprinted with permission. Copyright 2015 Health Communications Inc.