One of the delightful aspects of my job as a children's director is discussing kids' questions about God. Some recent gems include, "Was Jesus married while He was on earth?", "Why did Jesus have to die?", "How many gods are there?", "Isn't God loving? Why would He give the Israelites power to demolish complete cities?", "Is Jesus married now?", and "What country does God live in?" But of all my students' thought provoking queries, their most common question remains, "How can one God be three people?"
Now there's a whole grab bag of object lessons available to explain the Trinity to kids. Like the apple analogy: Just as an apple is made up of a peel, pulp, and seeds, so God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if apples aren't your thing, you can do pretty much the same analogy with an egg: Just as an egg is made up of shell, white, and yolk, so God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or how about the rope example: Just as this rope is made up of three strands, so God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or the shamrock: Just as this plant has three leaves, so God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Personally, I was raised on the water analogy: Water can exist as steam, liquid, and ice just as God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This made perfect sense to me in elementary school and contrary to fears about the dangers of Trinitarian object lessons, I did not embrace modalism.
Confident that the water analogy was clearly superior to the rest, it became my automatic reponse whenever kids asked me about the Trinity. But a few years ago I began thinking about the implications of using objects lessons to explain this concept. As far as I can tell, the Trinity isn't like anything else in creation and comparing it to an egg or shamrock (or the creative process - yeah, I'm talking to you, Dorothy Sayers!) doesn't begin to do it justice. And while I doubt that most kids will fall into heresy due to an imperfect fruit analogy, I do wonder if telling them that the Trinity is like an apple reduces their view of God's mystery and power.
So here's my current stock answer to the Trinity question: God is one God, but He exists in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is like nothing else in all creation. We can't understand it, but that's ok. God is so big and amazing that there are things about Him our minds just can't comprehend right now. Surprisingly (at least to me), the kids don't seem to need any more explanation.
What do you think? Have you come across any good Trinitarian object lessons? For those of you who have (or work with) kids, how do you explain the Trinity to them? I covet your thoughts and ideas.