How can I explain God's love to a suffering child?
My guess is that children, maybe even more than adults, are able to understand that God's final deliverance will make up for all the pain of the present. They may not be able to grasp with great sophistication the fact that this very moment God's love is being manifested in and through suffering. But a child can surely understand that someday, just as he promises you, God is going to take it away. We may not know why, but he is going to take it away and he is going to reward you in a way that will make all of your suffering seem as though it was not suffering. And he is going to give you everything you need for ever and ever—millions and millions of years—and you are going to be as happy as you can possibly be.
So I would make sure that I communicate to a child that if they trust Jesus then this disease, this pain, is going to be taken away. And you could read them from Revelation 21, "All crying and mourning and pain will be no more, for the former things have passed away."
Secondly, I think it's important to say to them that these evils in the world—the calamity that has come upon you, upon the children around you, and upon the rest of the world—came into the world because of sin. God ordained that the creation fall into futility. And Satan exploits that, and sin exploits that. And God has brought suffering and permits it now because of sin. Your suffering is not necessarily a direct result of your own sin, but because of the sin of humanity and the sin of all our hearts there is evil in the world. So turn away from sin! Receive forgiveness of it and repent and embrace the Savior, and pray for healing. And if the healing doesn't come now, it is going to come later.
And the third thing I would say—and this will depend on the child's capacities (you have to judge)—God builds amazing character, faith, love and depth out of suffering. I could point to people I know right now who've had 23 surgeries because of horrific birth issues and who, to this day, suffer significantly because of it. Yet they are some of the deepest, wisest, most loving, most patient, most ministering people I know; and that's because of what they're suffered and walked through.
On the other hand, if you find somebody for whom nothing has every gone wrong, who has experienced hardly any pain, sorrow or disappointment, you'll find that they're generally rather superficial people. It may be hard for a child to embrace that, but you can tell them that God is doing for you what he can do for nobody else. He's going to make you something special.
Maybe you'll do like Helen Roseveare and take a rose—a long stem red rose—and hold it up before the child. And you'll take a knife and say, "This red rose was what you might have been if you didn't have this disease or this pain." Then you start cutting it. And you cut all the green bark off of this long stem red rose. And you say, "This is what God is doing, and it hurts sometimes." Then you cut off the barb. And then you lop off the flower at the end, and you sharpen it down. And what the child finally sees in front of him is a white straight sharp arrow. The rose has become an arrow that can be put into a bow and shot into somebody's heart or into some enemy's face, something that a regular rose could never had done.
I heard that illustration from Helen Roseavere as she was talking about the destruction of some teenagers in South Africa back in the 1950s. And she showed with the arrow illustration how God used the killing of these teenagers in order to accomplish some great purposes that could not have been otherwise accomplished.
So a child might get help from some kind of practical visual illustration like that, showing them that God is going to make them into someone unusually useful if they hold fast to him.