How do you talk to young children about evil? Undoubtedly, they too have experienced this aspect of life. Some of them personally, and some through seeing it in the lives of others (perhaps via the news). With this kind of experience comes a range of emotions and many questions that need to be answered.

Now, my son has always loved stories. Any kind of stories. But he is particularly drawn to epic confrontations of good and evil, such as stories of superheroes fighting against the bad guys for the sake of justice. On a few occasions, he’s said to us, sheepishly, that he hates sin and evil in the world, except for how it leads to some great stories. Without something bad taking place, stories can be pretty boring.

So I picked up on his comment and helped him to make a similar connection to the real world. It was just a matter of reframing his own idea, to help him see how we can find meaning in the sadness and tragedies of real life.

Here’s a summary of our conversation:

A world without evil, pain and suffering would be a good world, like a story that is a good one because it has good characters that are doing good or even funny things. But in that kind of world, certain virtues could not exist. For example, without evil, there could be no courage and self-sacrifice. We could not love our enemies, showing them grace and forgiveness. If a story had nothing bad in it, to be overcome, there could be no heroic acts.

So in allowing evil to exist for a while, God is making the world better, in the same way that a story is richer if there is evil to be conquered. God uses evil to develop our character, in ways that wouldn’t be possible if there were no evil and suffering. Evil may be considered not only a problem in the world, but also something of a solution.

But this is not to say that God made evil. It’s still a result of human choices. Even so, God works through evil to bring about a greater good. He’s writing a better story with our lives.

Last year my son was bullied at school almost on a daily basis. It got pretty hard for him, and one night he broke down and cried, saying that he couldn’t take it anymore, and it would be better if he wasn’t alive. His little heart was broken.

But it was partly through these kinds of conversations that we helped him through this difficult time, guiding him to see meaning in the midst of his suffering, and building him up by pointing to the courage he was showing in going to school each day. It wasn’t easy, but I don’t think it was ever supposed to be. We couldn’t take away all his pain, but we could help him persevere through it.

Of course we wished that he hadn’t been bullied at all. But we can’t deny the fact that it did bring out something good; not only the opportunity for courage and growth, but also for forgiveness, and also for the grace that we as parents needed to extend to the parents of this other boy. Such experiences are important for our growth, and we believe this helps us to understand one reason God has for allowing evil and suffering in the world.