God is the Old Man Who Stars in Bible Stories
This stage exists from the post-infancy stage to about age 6.
When the time comes to speak, children quickly learn to use this new tool to help organise experiences into ‘meaning’ units, and the next few years are spent exploring and sorting a world of novelty using words and nicknames. As children of this age are, as yet, not able to compare and coordinate two different perspectives on the same object, they simply assume that their own view is the only one. (Perhaps you know some adults who have clung to this same child-like quality.)
They have not yet developed the logic required to deduce a picture of the whole when given the view of a small part of it. If a child has had several different experiences of a given phenomenon, he or she will use these experiences as though each one represented a complete description, and will not be perturbed if these descriptions are contradictory.
A child’s understanding of God will often have this fragmented nature. A picture of God will be constructed from fragments of stories, images provided from their culture and their own significant associations.
Pre-school children cannot yet generate, or even retell, a narrative that gives order to the fragments that make up their image of God. They appreciate long stories, but have only limited ability to retell them. Only concrete images and symbols really address the child’s way of knowing God.
A child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of important adults. The imaginative processes are uninhibited by logical thought, and produce long-lasting images and feelings from the mixed bag of perceptions of the child, which will later have to be sorted out when the child becomes capable of stable, self-reflective thinking.
In this stage a child will be able to become aware of death, sex and the strong taboos by which our culture insulates these powerful areas.
The gift of this stage is the newly-born imagination; the ability to unify and grasp the world of experiences in powerful images, and as presented in stories that register the child’s intuitive understanding and feelings toward the ultimate conditions of existence.
The dangers of this stage arise from the possible ‘possession’ of a child’s imagination by unrestrained images of terror and destructiveness that may arise from a religious focus on sin and the judgment of a powerful God, or from witting or unwitting exploitation of the imagination in the reinforcement of taboos and moral or doctrinal expectations.
The step to the next stage is the emergence of logical thinking, the child’s growing concern to know how things are; to clarify the distinction between that which is real and that which only seems to be.