Bible & Children

There is little that warms my heart more than when my son brings me his Bible and asks if we can read it together, or when I see a child in my congregation carrying a Bible with duct tape on the binding, a do-it-yourself repair to wear and tear from frequent reading.

I believe these things have happened to me three times in total.
Reading the Bible with children is hard work, just like reading the Bible with (and as) adults is hard work. Here is just a sample of the issues that we come up against as we attempt to read and explain the Bible to our children:
·     We often think that just because there is an animal in a Bible story it must be a good one to teach to children. I shudder each time I see a crib set with a Noah’s ark theme, wondering what it means to literally wrap our children in a story about human depravity and divine destruction.

·     We also often think that it is a good idea to teach children stories about other children in the Bible. This is a bit like assuming that the movie “Children of the Corn” is appropriate for children based on  the title. More often than not, the stories of children and of parent-child relationships in the Bible are too graphic or too steeped in ancient culture to translate easily to a child’s personal experiences.

·     Many parents themselves are not as biblically literate as their children need them to be. This doesn’t mean that parents should have the entire Bible figured out before they talk to their children about it – a growing adult faith never really has everything figured out. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t tell your child that you don’t understand why a character, or God, does or doesn’t do something in a biblical story. It does mean that before your child asks you why God destroyed the world with a flood you should have read the story of Noah’s Ark for yourself at least once already.

·     When we read the Bible, we often forget to ask a final question of the story: “What does this teach us about our relationship with God?” I fantasize about the day when in a Confirmation class I will have before me such biblically literate children that when I ask the question “What is an example from the Bible of when God shows mercy to human beings?” all hands will go up in the air with answers like the sparing of Nineveh, the Golden Calf, Jesus on the cross, the sign of the rainbow. But that has yet to happen. The Bible is no good to us if it remains for us just a collection of ancient stories. If that was all we were hoping to achieve, then our Bible reading should just be incorporated into our children’s reading of the stories of Atlas, Sisyphus, Medusa, or Poseidon.

·     Finally, the Bible has in it a lot of stuff that we no longer agree with and that we therefore find problematic or even abhorrent: rape, polygamy, slavery, animal sacrifice, incest, extreme violence. Do we gloss over these things when we teach children the Bible, only to leave them to confront these issues as teenagers or adults? Do we try to teach them an awkward understanding of biblical authority that says that some parts of the Bible are important but others can be ignored? I am still trying to work that one out myself.

Even if we had all started reading the Bible "religiously" as children, we would still be adults who are seeking to understand what all it contains and what it means for our lives. This is a lifelong journey - one on which we can and should take our children along with us, remembering that they will see the scripture through their own eyes and will have the ability even to teach us what God is trying to say to us through the Bible today.

Check out the following two posts that address how we use Picture Bibles with children and how to transition your child to a children's study Bible:

Is a Children's Picture Bible Really a Bible?

Five Steps to Choosing a Using a Children's Study Bible