I have eight ways to help your children love those who are different from them. There is an order to them, and I will try to explain it along the way. The gospel of Christ comes in at number five. And the reason it comes so late is that this is the way it works in raising children. They can understand things about God and about what God commands before they can know the meaning of their own depravity and the glory of the way God worked salvation in Christ.
So these are addressed mainly to parents, but also to anyone else who cares about helping children love people different from themselves. Keep in mind that on every point I am assuming that every parent is seeking to be what he is teaching the children. Teach and model. Teach and model.
1. Help children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in creating them with the body that they have.
Most little children are wonderfully free from fretting about their body. They don’t think about it. If there is no pain, they just go from one thing to the next with no bothersome self-consciousness at all.
But almost all children come to an age when they worry about their bodies. Am I too tall or too short? Too thin or too heavy? Too dark or too light? Cool hair or boring hair? Clear complexion or blemished? These fears, and the craving to be liked, can escalate into destructive dysfunctions and sinful behaviors.
Not Self-Esteem But God’s Sovereign Goodness
What is needed is not the world’s teaching on self-esteem, but God’s teaching on his sovereign goodness and wisdom in creating our children they way they are. Psalm 139:14: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” It doesn’t solve every problem. It’s just massively important. And the teaching and modeling begins when the child is one year old, not when he is 11. You are getting your child ready for adolescence from the day he is born.
And what you want your child to grasp as soon as possible is: 1) God made me. 2) God is very, very wise. 3) God is very, very good. 4) Therefore, we should trust him. The way he made me is good. The battle of adolescence is not mainly a self-esteem issue. It’s a God issue. A trust issue. We are teaching our children from the beginning to trust God’s sovereignty and wisdom and goodness.
The reason I start here is that the next point will have more power if you have built this into a child from the beginning.
2. Help children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in making other people with the body that they have.
This simply takes the first truth and applies it to others. And if you have helped them grasp the idea of being created by God—an amazing and wonderful truth—and being created with wisdom and goodness, then they will not have as much trouble grasping that this is true for others as well.
And if they grasp that others, in all their differences, are created by a wise and good God, then you can draw out all the implications of that. For example, you would not make fun of God’s work, would you? You would not hurt someone by staring at them as if they were made by a foolish god or a bad god, would you? And so on.
3. Help children believe that they and all other children and adults are made in God’s image.
Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Build into your children from the beginning that they are different from all the animals because God made us like himself. This applies to all human beings, all races. We can know God. And love God. And think God’s thoughts after him in the Bible. And talk to God. And reflect God in ways that no animal can.
We teach our children that being a human is an amazing and glorious thing. No race is an exception to this. And here is one of the main implications: What makes us like God (all of us) is infinitely more important than any physical thing that makes us unlike each other.
So we say to our children, if they are pulling away from someone who’s different, “Is he more like you, or more different from you?” And if he says, “More different.” You say, “No, because he’s created in God’s image, and you’re created in God’s image. So you are like each other in that really, really important way. The differences aren’t nearly that important.”
God As Creator and Commander of Love
So the first three ways to help our children love those who are different from them all revolve around helping them know God as their Creator and what that means for their lives.
The next examples of how to help our children relates to knowing God as the God who commands us to love. So first our children meet God as their Creator. And then they meet him as the giver of the law which is summed up in the command to love.
4. Teach children that God tells us to do to others as we would like others to do to us.
Jesus said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). This can be very powerful with smaller children who are just old enough to know what it feels like to be made fun of or excluded.
We teach them the Golden Rule to do to others what we would like to be done to us. And we apply it over and over again to their relationships and how they treat others. “Would you want to be treated that way? No. So let’s not treat them that way either.”
Jesus said, amazingly, “This is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So build this into your children early and often. When someone is different from you and you are tempted to say something or do something to them, ask: Would I want someone to say that to me or do that to me?
To be continued
- John Piper