Yesterday, I posted a link to this blog on Facebook. In it, the author posits that perhaps we Christians do our children a disservice when we teach them stories about Heroes of the Faith in a way that holds up the hero and a particular behavior we want our children to aspire to. He suggests that giving our children these glossed-over, children’s version Bible stories and encouraging our children to be “faithful like Abraham” or “good like Joseph” or “obedient like Esther” is not teaching our children the true gospel.
This author encourages us to teach our children, “Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.”
And my heart sings, “Amen!”
I post some controversial things on Facebook, but I didn’t expect this to be controversial. Who can argue with the idea that the gospel message is that God loves us in our sin, not because of our beauty or goodness? But evidently this post didn’t resonate with everyone else the way it resonated with me. Some of my Facebook friends argued that we should teach our children edited Bible stories, leaving out the parts about Moses’ murdering and David’s unfaithfulness until our children become teenagers. They say we should use Bible stories as moral lessons of how to behave, holding up heroes for our children to aspire to.
Like the author of the blog post, I find danger in that. I think it puts too much pressure on young children, but -mostly- I think it misrepresents God and the Bible.
I think there are ways to teach TRUE Bible stories in age-appropriate ways. I think it’s possible to explain to young children that Abraham wanted to trust God for a baby, but waiting was really hard for him, so Abraham tried to solve the problem on his own. Instead of waiting on Sarah to have a baby, Abraham convinced himself God might want to give him a baby by another woman. So Abraham asked one of their servants to have a baby for him. She did have a baby for Abraham, but that was not God’s perfect plan for Abraham. God wanted Abraham to believe in Him, to have faith that God could do something impossible. God loved Abraham and was patient with him, even when Abraham struggled to believe. God had a good plan for Abraham, even when Abraham sinned. Abraham did have faith in God, even though it was sometimes hard to wait on God and he was tempted to step in and take charge of his own life.
In explaining this to a child, I don’t have to get into R-rated details about concubines and extramarital sex. No, we can talk about the sin without being gory and inappropriate. Besides, the MAIN sin, the heart sin behind the action sin in this particular story, is Abraham’s unbelief and lack of faith. And we can tell children that there were consequences for that sin — because there were BIG consequences that, I believe, are still affecting the world today — but that God still had good plans for Abraham. This sin didn’t make Abraham unusable to God; this sin didn’t cause God to put Abraham on a shelf and move on to Plan B; this sin didn’t cause God to turn His back on Abraham.
How much more powerful for a child to see the Bible Heroes as real people! People they can relate to and identify with! When we portray the men and women in Bible stories as real people with flaws, then God becomes the true Hero of every Bible story.
This author encourages us to teach our children that God loves us simply because He loves us. In our “beastliness.” “That his love isn’t vague sentimentality, but it cost him his most precious treasure to turn us into his prized possession; that the storyline of the Bible is God’s Search and Rescue mission to find the dying Beast and kiss him into joyous life.”
When Silas was in first grade, he was struggling with self-control. Not coincidentally, he was also studying the life of Moses that year in Bible class at school. He learned that Moses saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave and became angry and killed the Egyptian. Murder isn’t exactly a featured topic in the Precious Moments Bible, and we may be tempted to skip over that part in teaching children. But we can teach them the truth without overemphasizing or glorifying murder. We can also teach the consequences — Moses had to flee his home because he was afraid he would be punished.
Like Moses, Silas has an extremely strong sense of justice. Also like Moses, Silas is at times tempted to allow his anger to control him and drive his behavior. Immediately, he related to this real, human Moses. For weeks, Silas and I talked about Moses’ choices and God’s grace. Each time Silas lost self-control, his dad or I would remind him that self-control doesn’t come naturally –not even for a man like Moses–, that self-control is a work of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Almost every day for weeks and weeks, Silas expressed frustration at his lack of self-control, empathized with Moses (and his life-long struggle with not being controlled by emotions) and deeply regretted each time he lost his temper or acted on impulse.
Finally, one night Silas cried, “I need the Holy Spirit inside me to give me self-control!” He realized that he couldn’t muster up goodness on his own. He needed God. He needed the Holy Spirit inside him. He needed Jesus and the forgiveness and relationship that comes through the cross. He needed Grace.
If I had taught Silas a glossed-over, Precious Momentized version of Moses’ life, he would have missed out on the Main Point. We aren’t good on our own. God doesn’t love us because of our goodness. He loves us because He loves us. Everyone (even Moses) struggles with sin. But God is merciful and gracious, and God loves us. And He wants to help us. We can’t muster up goodness and self-control on our own; those are things God works in us. We need Him.
It’s tempting to moralize Bible stories and make them all about shaping our children’s behavior. I get that. I’m tempted to do it myself. Sometimes it would just make my life easier if they would want to be obedient and brave and faithful and kind and good. And if using a cleaned-up version of a Bible story would help accomplish that, then the temptation is strong.
But more than I want my children to behave well, I want them to know God. Really know Him. I want them to pursue God more than I want them to try to be like Abraham or Moses or Esther. I want Jesus to be their Hero, the One Who transforms them from enemy to friend, the One Who loves them in their awfulness and weakness, the One Who rescues them from death and loves them to life.
If we use the Bible as a bunch of stories to try to manipulate our children’s behavior, then we are cheating them. If the Bible is merely a book of lessons to teach morals and good values, then I could use any other number of library books to accomplish the same purpose.
No, as I teach the Bible to my children I want them to see grace woven all throughout. I want them to see a God who loves us in our badness and then plants His goodness in us. That’s the gospel message.