Abused Children Ask: Why Didn’t God Get Us out of There?

Never forget, parents and caregivers set the model for how people will perceive God later in life. Abused children face big obstacles to gain an understanding of the goodness of God.


questions children ask when learning the Bible: child abuseDear Thoughtful Pastor: I have a friend who teaches children that have come from severe physical and emotional abuse. Authorities have removed them from their families.

My friend told me recently that a group of siblings she is currently working with asked these questions: “How old is the Bible? What was the date of Adam and Eve’s death? Do we know where they are buried? How do we know the date they died if we can’t find their bodies? If God is real why didn’t he answer our prayers to get us out of the house we were in?”

How do we respond to these questions?

I am ever fascinated by the way a child’s mind works. And here, these queries give us insight into the mind of a group of children who have experienced egregious mistreatment. [Note: I am aware of the tragic backstory of this particular group of siblings but will not reveal it for the sake of their privacy.]

Two things stand out to me: the need to know more about Adam and Eve’s deaths and the need to know if a good God is real or a myth of some sort.

They tie together in fascinating ways. Perhaps to affirm God’s “realness,” they need to some way to stake the story of Adam and Eve to a historical, verifiable date.

Alternative interpretations of Genesis

And therein is the problem. I would guess that someone taught these children an ex-nihilo creation of this first man and first woman in their fully human form. They magically spring to life as tool-creating sentient gardeners who work a fixed area, never leaving their home bases.

And yes, readers can interpret the first chapters of Genesis that way. Unfortunately, such a scenario simply doesn’t fit the mountains of archaeological and geographic evidence that the earth provides us. Early humans were all nomadic hunter-gatherers. Fixed site agriculture was a late development.

Those who want to affirm the truth of the Bible and also acknowledge the facts presented by physical evidence often find themselves torn. Like these children, they need a verifiable burial ground to ground themselves, so they don’t have to doubt the goodness of God.

Most of us have reasons to doubt the goodness of God. That, in fact, is what the Adam/Eve story is all about. The first words in Genesis repeatedly affirm God’s goodness and the goodness of creation. Then the tempter appears with one goal: insert doubt in the mind of humankind about God’s goodness.

“Surely,” the tempter asks, “God can’t be good if God put you in the midst of all this delightful food and you can’t eat a bite of it.”

Of course, that’s a lie—there is only one tree off limits, one piece of knowledge to be left untouched. But that’s what evil does: twists the truth just enough to trap people into the ultimate terror: a growing sense that God is either not real or not good, but is, if real, a wrathful torturer.

Never forget, parents and caregivers set the model for how people will perceive God later in life. Abused children face big obstacles to gain an understanding of the goodness of God.

The dilemma of abused children: Parents=God

Mommies and daddies have ultimate power.

They choose whether that power will be dispensed with tender love or with angry neglect or outright abuse.

They choose whether they will use their power to offer nutritious foods (just as the Garden story illustrates) and attentive time together (again, just as the Garden story illustrates) or whether they will starve their children or stuff them with junk food and ignore them the rest of the time.

They choose in what ways they will deal with the inevitable testing of boundaries that all children do and whether the consequences fit the transgressions (yet once more, as the Garden story illustrates). Either extreme, the unwise protection from all consequences or the unmeasured outpouring of wrath, means the children see their parents (i.e., God) as capricious and bad, not consistent and good.

But if God is good, then why, dear God why, why were these children left to suffer unprotected for so long? And what about the others still in that situation? Or the Muslim Rohingya who are at this very moment undergoing violent ethnic cleansing by the Buddhist-majority people in Myanmar? Right now, families face violent separations, see their villages burn, their babies murdered and their young daughters kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.

Where is this good God?

I can’t answer that question. But I do know this: for this moment in time, you who are teaching these children are the face of God to them. You are the one who can show them the goodness their family ruthlessly denied them. In like manner, those called to Bangladesh to rescue work for the Rohingya become their face of God.

May you be faithful to the task set before you.

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  • summers-lad

    Good post, and I particularly like the way you bring out the themes of God’s caring and parenting in the Genesis account. And I’m totally with you on the awful effects of abused power.
    I would like to comment though on “I would guess that someone taught these children an ex-nihilo creation of this first man and first woman in their fully human form.” Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. (And I realise you know more about these children than you have written.) Children’s minds, up to age 11 or so, work in concrete ways. Children associate ideas in ways that adults don’t (and vice versa). So it is perfectly possible that children, without being taught young-earth creationism, will interpret the Adam and Eve story in a “literal”, concrete way, and link that to their heartfelt question about unanswered prayer. Maturing brings the ability to think in the abstract, to interpret the creation stories (or any other literature) in metaphorical or symbolic ways, to perceive deeper truths and implications such as those you brought out. So even if these children were taught creationism, that doesn’t look to me as part of the problem in this case. (Sure, it could be as they grow older.)
    “Those who want to affirm the truth of the Bible and also acknowledge the facts presented by physical evidence often find themselves torn.” True, but needlessly so, and many Christians throughout the centuries have recognised that the early chapters of Genesis are there to teach us about God, humans and the relationship between us, but are not meant to be a scientific textbook.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    Very insightful on abused children and God. Thanks.

  • Cynthia Astle

    Excellent post. Picking up for UM Insight.

  • Olivia N’Jones

    I had an awful childhood but God always was good to me. In fact, my human misery opened my eyes to His Presence.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    “Why Didn’t God Get Us out of There?”

    Perhaps there is no God. Some questions have easy answers if you take off your God glasses.

  • HelenaConstantine

    Jesus Christ, what an evil self-serving hypocrite! Instead of blathering on about why science proves your fairy storiesare true, why not answer the fucking Question? Why didn’t god get them out of there?

    If god could have saved those children, and didn’t, he is evil.

    If god couldn’t save them, then why call him god?

    Doesn’t leave much room for being a Christian, does it?

    But, I understand, it pays your salary, doesn’t it pastor?.

    • HelenaConstantine

      should be “prove your fairy stories aren’t true” but I was thinking of other matters.

    • jamesparson

      The bell rings and you come punching!

      The author asked the question, and she did not seem prepared to answer the very questions that she was asking.

      Her article is disappointing.

  • Brandon Roberts

    because……..banannas

  • Jodie Jones

    The importance of prior knowledge and mental knowledge influences our learning. This is why teaching with the brain in mind is important. It is clear that you understand and respect the sibling’s prior knowledge, but how will you build on it? The context of where you are teaching the children also will play a part in the mental models that they are developing.

  • Fusina

    The question is unanswered. I used to beg god to get me away from my abuser. WHY DIDN’T HE?