Let me confess right from the start that there is a copy of the newly released Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament on my seven-year-old’s nightstand. I should also confess that for the first time ever the other day my son said to me as I was putting him to bed, “I’d like to read the Bible in bed for a while before I go to sleep mom. Is that okay?”
I have spent my morning reading through the slew of one star ratings that this Old Testament, illustrated entirely in Legos, has received on Amazon.com. Most of them made me chuckle. The subjects for complaint range from the uncensored reproductions of stories that involve violence, sex, childbirth, and nakedness to the unsympathetic way that God is portrayed throughout. The fact that I have been receiving exactly the same concerns from a group of women ranging in age from 30 to 90 who are working through an Old Testament survey course (with nary a Lego in sight) speaks to me of the level of accuracy that the Brick Testament has achieved.
A few caveats. After digging into the background of the author, I will say that he is an “interesting” person who I probably would not allow to babysit my child. You would have to figure that someone who could construct such an extensive re-creation of the Bible would have to be a little crazy (and I mean to use that word in the very nicest of ways). I also understand the confusion that many folks seem to have over this book, because YES, Legos are children’s toys, and so it is natural to jump to the conclusion that this is a children’s book. I know that it is entirely an occupational habit that I actually look carefully at a children’s Bible before I give it to a child. But come on folks, maybe we should all look a little more carefully at any type of media we buy for our children, even if it does have the word Bible on the front.
So, after reading through parts of the Brick Bible with my child and thinking even more seriously about how and what we teach our children, I have begun to consider the possibility that all Bibles should have a warning label on the front, for adults and children. Here are my thoughts:
It is important to remember that almost every picture Bible/children’s Bible is going to do three things that make it different from the actual Bible. It is going to omit the difficult stories that have questionable content for young children (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah). It is going to summarize and shorten most other stories by jumping over questionable content or even extensive details that are harder to illustrate (e.g., Hagar and Ishmael’s portion of Abraham and Sarah’s story). Finally, and this is the trickiest one, a children’s Bible will often attempt to answer the child’s perennial question – why. A children’s Bible will often end a story with the lesson to be learned, explain a character’s motivation, or even provide God’s perspective on the story – even a story like the book of Esther which, in the biblial version, doesn't even mention God at all.
When we read the actual Bible with children we don’t have the luxury of three items listed above, which makes reading the Bible with children a lot more work. Let’s be honest, it makes reading the Bible with adults a lot more work as well. We are not just called upon to read and explain stories that make us uncomfortable, we as adults are left in the position of answering the question – why.
Here is just a sample of the “why” questions that can come up when children read the Bible. I am sure you have your own as well. Why does God kill Egyptian children? Why are so many of these stories so sad? Why do the Israelites have to be circumcised? Why is Jesus so mean sometimes? I can honestly say that the question on circumcision is the only one out of this list for which I am confident of my answer – a sign that these truly are difficult discussions to have with children.
This leaves me seriously considering when and how we introduce not just the difficult stories of the Bible to children, but the unedited ones and the open-ended ones as well – the ones that are not wrapped up nicely in a bow at the end.In our house, it would appear that 7 is the age at which we are making that shift, evidenced by the fact that I am allowing my son to call The Brick Bible his Bible. But we have also made the shift in another way, in that when we read together in his “approved” children’s Bible, I find myself more and more often adding in the details and the stories that it has left out.
As he begins to read on his own, we will start reading an actual translation of the stories that he has come to know as a child and talk about what new things he is noticing, now that he is reading the actual Bible.Hopefully, by the time he is a young teenager (most likely when he stops wanting to talk with me about anything) he will be able to start seriously considering some of the most difficult stories and how they shape what the Bible is to him.
Finally, the introduction of the Brick Bible to our house has reminded me of the important rite of passage of having a book in your possession that, while it seems to be something socially acceptable, turns out to be something that a child/young teenager can be shocked by (this reminds me that we may be just about ready to start subscribing to National Geographic). It reminds me of the moment when I discovered the Song of Solomon in my Bible and couldn’t believe that this racy stuff I was reading was actually in the Bible that all three pastors at my church had signed and given to me when I was just in elementary school.
Allowing children to discover that there are some strange and unfamiliar things in the Bible can sometimes be the way they learn to spend time reading even the tame parts of it.
What are the questions that your children have asked you about the Bible that you have struggled to answer? What are the questionable stories in scripture that you have struggled with? If you have flipped through the Brick Bible yourself (or checked out the even more complete Bible on the website), what was your impression?