Talking to our kids about the devil
When I was little, Halloween wasn’t a ‘thing’. We got excited about bonfire night. We used to make a guy out of dad’s cast off clothes, plonk it in a wheelbarrow with a hand-written 'penny for the guy', and put it outside the front gate, hoping that kind strangers might drop some coins in. Other than being vaguely aware that Americans trick or treated every 31st October, I had no contact with Halloween at all.
Fast forward 25 years, and as I walk my three year old daughter around town, I suddenly see Halloween everywhere. The supermarket has orange card pumpkins and spooky ghosts hanging from the ceiling. Blood-splattered costumes nestle next to fairy outfits in the local cheapy shop. The town council are advertising a free family Halloween event in the local park. Her friends are going trick and treating. Even the sweets we normally buy have mysteriously evolved into pumpkins and witches’ hats. And this sends me into a spin. I don’t know how to walk her through this stuff.
The thing was, you see, that for me Halloween seemed to be a poorly disguised playground for the devil. I think I was scared by the responsibility of helping my daughter understand who the devil was and help her deal with it healthily. It turned out that in my bumbling way I managed to do that, but here’s what I wished I’d have thought through then!
1) If kids know about God, they need to know about the devil.
Just as you can’t describe a great sporting contest without mentioning the defeated opponent - think Mohammed Ali versus George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, Borg versus McEnroe at Wimbledon 1980, or England versus Germany in the 1966 World Cup - so you can’t tell the story of God without telling the story of the devil. God’s actions in the world, his love for us and his sacrifice on the cross only make sense if you know about the devil - who he is, how God deals with him and what he thinks of us. Here are some links which you might find helpful in understanding who the devil is and his part in the big story of God and people:
- The Gospel Project on understanding Satan and demons
- Christian Parenting on what to teach about Satan
- Crossway on why we shouldn't fear Satan and demons
- Active Christianity on what the Bible says about Satan
2) If not you, then who?
Like many things in life, if you don’t explain who the devil is, then your kids will find out from somewhere – a game, a film, chatter in the playground, something on the news. Even if they read their Bible and go to church regularly, they may not get a full picture of who he is and what he does – they need you to help them understand all that the Bible tells us is true of the devil and his works.
3) He is a defeated enemy.
It’s easy to think of God and the devil as equal but opposite opponents, pitched against each other for all time. But the Bible explains that they are in no way even close to being equal. The truth is that God is the all-powerful everlasting creator; the devil is the defeated creature who will, one day, be destroyed for ever. Our children need to know that although the devil can scare us, we are protected by the name of Jesus through the cross. Just as Jesus was able to stand up to the devil so can we because Jesus has passed on to Christians his power and authority. ‘Focus on the Family’ have a great article here on how to help children explore and grow in confidence in their spiritual armour
4) It’s not a massive deal.
C S Lewis, a brilliant communicator of God, said this in the preface to his masterpiece, ‘The Screwtape Letters’: 'There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is the disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them'. It’s important for your child to know what the Bible teaches about the devil – it is part of the story the Bible tells, but not the most important part.
5) Be led by your kids.
Most kids will ask about the devil at some point. You know them best and how you answer will depend on them, their age and what you think. It’s a bit like the ‘where did I come from?’ question. You need to make sure your kid knows the essentials – but then you can wait until there’s a right moment, or a right question to say more. There’s a really helpful article here that explores how to tell the difficult bits of the Bible well, and if you find your kids ask a question you don’t know the answer to – or if you want to encourage them to start exploring it themselves – the questions tool from Parenting for Faith is a great resource. If appropriate, share stories about your encounters with evil or how you think about it.