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Three-In-One; How’s that work?

So, this past Wednesday night I’m working with about ten kids at the church, trying to pull them through a worth-while lesson about Jesus helping others and how he came to help us and wants us to help others. As we were transitioning from one activity to another, two of the kids jump into this exchange:

[girl] But God and Jesus are different!
[boy] No they’re not! They’re the same!
[girl] But Jesus came to earth, and God was in heaven.
[boy] Geez! Jesus was God.

Somehow, this managed to get everyone’s attention and, for the first time that night, ten kids were not only silent, but interested in the same thing. Recognizing a spontaneous sort of teachable moment, we pushed the other activities aside and ran with the debate. (I knew we were tossing nine year olds into the deep end of the pool pretty quickly, but, hey, you’ve gotta learn to swim sometime, huh?)

Wanting them to talk about what they were each trying to say, but knowing neither wanted to end up being wrong, I told them I would go ahead and tell them the answer: “You’re both right!”

They each took turns in explaining how it worked, both sure of their explanation, but also knowing the other person sure did make a lot of sense. Other children were soon to jump in with ideas and explanations.

Someone suggested that maybe God created the world, one day decided to go to earth and became Jesus, and then, when he was done being Jesus, decided to be the Holy Spirit (a different-person-at-different-times kind of thing).

Another child knew there was something about, “In the beginning was Jesus and Jesus was God and was with God…”, so Jesus must have always been there. One of the girls told the group about Jesus’ baptism; ‘Jesus was there in the river with John and the sky opened up and God said from heaven ‘this is my son and I’m proud of him’ and then the Holy Spirit came down like a bird.’ This threw a wrench in the different-person-at-different-times theory.

I let them explore for a little while, and then tried to bring it together for them with an analogy. We talked about water from the faucet being liquid like you drink. If you put that in the freezer, it turns into hard ice. And if mom puts it in a pot on the stove and heats it up, that water becomes steam or water vapor. So it was all different, but all the same water. We all agreed that helped, but didn’t answer all the questions (which answering their questions wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway).

I was excited by the whole conversation. They were curious and inquisitive. They didn’t want to just leave it with a simple explanation. There was a lot of thought put into their own explanations, and they seemed to really listen to everybody else’s guesses. And at the end we all still didn’t quite get it! But now they’re wondering…

I know people still wrestle with a theology of the Trinity. It’s difficult to say there’s three persons in one God. This is an issue that has caused much debate over Christianity be a monotheistic religion or a polytheism. Not to mention, I’m sure there are people who would shoot holes all in the ice-water-steam analogy; the Trinity being three distinct persons, while ice-water-steam are simply different phases of the matter.

But where do you take a nine year old with that question?

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