Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Don't Lie to Your Children

The other day on BBC 2 the animated film The Prince of Egypt was on.  It is a re-telling of the story of Moses taken in part from the book of Exodus and artistically adapted for the cinema.

Grace and I started to watch it together and something happened that completely threw me.

It got to the part in the story when Moses kills the Egyptian.  The Bible says, 'One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them at their hard labour.  He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  Glancing this way and that and seeing no-one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.'  Exodus 2:11-12

When Grace watched this part of the film she became absolutely distraught.  She cried and cried, filled with fear.

I managed to calm her down, we talked it through and as the day went on she stopped thinking about it.

But I haven't stopped thinking about it.

For a while now I have been considering the way in which we share the Biblical story with our children.  Time and time again we treat our children with no respect because we feed them lies and half truths about the reality of the Biblical story.

The story of Noah is a nice little boat trip, the Exodus is a few insect inconveniences, David and Goliath have a little spat, Jesus has a lovely little birth, says some nice stories and give lots of hugs.

Not only do we share the same stories over and over again, missing out massive chunks of Scripture, but the stories we tell are not even the reality of how the Bible portrays them.  No wonder our children grow up and walk away from the church.  The get to an age where they realise that we haven't been telling them the truth, where we haven't shared with them the whole sweep of Scripture and where we have avoided the hard and messy parts of the Biblical story.  When life gets messy for our children they should find comfort and hope and challenges in God's Great Story, but because we have painted a picture where everything is always lovely and easy, they seriously don't not think our faith has anything to say.

Grace's reaction to The Prince of Egypt helped me realise again that the Christian faith is filled with stories that are painful, difficult and scary.  But if we want our children to explore, wrestle and grapple with being a follower of Jesus then we have to be honest and share the reality of these stories.  Then with integrity they and we can journey together.  If they decide that they do not want to be a part of this then at least we know that it is out of a truthful reality and wrestling.

Let us stop lying to our children and ducking the hard questions that the Bible throws us and start to all be challenged by what God has said and is saying to us through the whole narrative of Scripture.  Don't avoid these stories because you're scared and uncomfortable of them.  When was being a follower of Jesus ever comfortable?


Phil Wood said...

I agree with you. We edit and prettify our Bible for the sake of our children. I think though, that we also indulge in Peter Pan exegesis as adults communicating with adults. How much of our approach to Scripture is genuinely 'grown up'? It's so easy to do faith sunny side up - Psalms full of comforting shepherds and security on the rock with no Psalm 88.

Fine post and a good point!

Joe Haward said...

I think you are right Phil. We need to allow space to lament, to have permission to name the darkness in our lives and to share our pain as well as our joys. We worship a crucified God - surely that says something about how the Church worships? I like that phrase, Peter Pan exegesis...

Thanks for the encouragement. Grace and peace.

Daniel Walters said...


I'm not sure I agree with your initial post, at least not if you're talking about young children. Young children don't choose to be followers of Jesus, they are brought up as such, and I'm not sure what use scaring them is.

The key point is I guess being sensitive to our children's questions and maturity as they get older. As a former RE teacher, I found that most of the boys (single-sex school) I taught didn't start thinking critically about religious / philosophical issues till they were at least 12 or 13. At that point it's important to start giving them a more mature teaching, but up till then?

I don't think it's lying either, unless you call innocent stories about Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy "lies". Children are children, perhaps we should let them be such... I think the only thing young children need to be taught is that they are loved by God unconditionally and that they should try to love others as best they can.

The rest can wait.

Joe Haward said...

Hi Daniel

I absolutely agree with you that our children need to know that the most important thing in life is to love God and love others. This must be seen and heard through our own lives.

I do not want to scare children! But we need to be honest with them about the reality of the Biblical story. We don't need to go into gory details like a Mel Gibson film, and we shouldn't. But we do need to be honest. Being honest means that they know the truth and that we don't try and hide the truth, and that is what I'm trying to encourage. Children are not daft. As soon as they get a hint that we have not been upfront with them about the Biblical story then it will be no wonder that they walk away.

I think it is a deeper issue about how we view our children. I completely agree that children need to be children and we must encourage that. So let children be children and tell us what they think about the Biblical story. Let us hear what they think. We need to hear their thoughts.

I have to disagree with you about children not really thinking or questioning critically until they are 12/13. Children are questioning and grappling theologically and philosophically all the time. And it is out of this questioning that they are learning what it means to be a disciple.
My 5 year old daughter asked me the other day, 'Daddy, did God create Himself?' A few weeks ago she asked, 'Daddy, why did God kill all the Egyptian children?' These are deep theological questions that she has thought up and considered herself.

So we need to take children seriously and walk with them in their questioning. God is love, 100%, but if this is the only message they hear until they reach teenage years and life gets tough and confusing, then they will walk away. Children need to know the truth and sweep of Scripture that affirms and declares that God is love woven through a Grand Story of pain, joy, suffering and hope.


Daniel Walters said...


I actually agree about the young children questioning thing, I didn't express myself very clearly in my comment.

What I mean is: while younger children often ask penetrating and insightful questions on the 'big issues' in life, it seems (to me, although I vaguely remember reading some research about this at the time) that children move on to a higher level of thinking / criticism in early teenage years, and become more able to deal with doubt, uncertainty and so on, and the fact that maybe there aren't definitive answers to all our questions. Prior to that point it seems that children seem to WANT to be told what the "right" answer is about God etc (which as a teacher in a state school, I had to be careful about what I said).

Most children brought up by Christians believe in Jesus etc, most children brought up by atheists believe there is no God etc. I actually think that there is no problem with them having such a 'simplistic' faith based on clear, simple stories as long as parents / other responsible adults recognise when their children start to see the limitations of such a simplistic world view. For example, I will no doubt teach my sons the story of the six days of creation because of the messages about God and his relationship to the world - even though I am no creationist and fully accept evolution. The subtleties can come later.

I think it's when parents / teachers / youth workers aren't sensitive to that shift, and children / young people feel they are being fobbed off, that they may (and often do) walk away from the faith. It's not saying to them "well, we lied to you before, and this is the reality" but "well, now you're a bit older, now you're ready to understand that reality is a bit more complex."

I guess I'm worried that trying to give kids more than they can handle at too early an age carries the danger that they become confused and doubtful, and that the central theme of love gets lost.

Sorry I'm rambling a bit and probably not making too much sense...

Joe Haward said...

All makes sense mate, and trust me, you are not rambling! My blogging is rambling!!

I suppose I am seeing it different at the moment where I want children to 100% be children and enjoy their childhood and be encouraged to be children, but I think that can happen with a honest re-telling of the Bible stories. And I don't want to hand it all on a plate but rather encourage mystery, doubt, uncertainty and searching.

I want the central theme of love to come through, but I think it comes through the strongest when we take seriously the reality and mystery of Scripture and God's interaction with humanity throughout history.

Blessings mate.