‘Cuz God is a killer from the start
Why you think Noah had to build his ark?
– Heaven, Ice Cube
Everything I ever learned in Sunday School about Noah’s Ark involved cute little animals marching up the plank onto a giant boat. Oh, and of course, 40 days of rain, rain, rain and crows and doves and olive branches. And rainbows. Pretty, pretty rainbows. And perhaps some passing mention of flooding the world to the point where everyone died except for eight people stuck on a boat.
God kills almost every person on the planet (not to mention all the animals and plants) and we Christians teach it to kids with catchy songs because it has cute fluffy animals and boats and stuff?
I find that really inappropriate.
In a related vein, my kids’ Sunday School teachers are going to hate me.
It doesn’t bother me that everyone dies by God’s hand. It bothers me because we gloss over hard parts of the Bible, Disney-fy a Grimm story, and put a pretty bow on it with a nice banal song to boot. Maybe even add a talking animal friend.
Basically, we lie to our children about God and His story and one day, they’re going to read the Bible for themselves and hit Noah’s Ark and say, “What the flying fuck is this?”
And not just Noah’s Ark. The Bible is page after page of completely messed up stories and people that challenge us and make no sense sometimes, and often bring up more questions than answers about God and His infinite mercy and wisdom.
Don’t think the Bible is that edited when we teach our kids? How about the raping of Dinah and her brothers killing all the men of the offending tribe when they are recovering from circumcision? Or David committing murder so he can cover up adultery and knocking up someone else’s wife? Or God commanding the Israelites to kill all the people – women and children included – in their skirmishes as they invade another people’s land to turn into their own? Or the tenth plague of Egypt where the Angel of Death kills every single first born – including babies and toddlers (which I have a huge problem with)? Or when Abraham whores out his wife, Sarah, to various kings because he is too cowardly to claim her as his wife?
I mean, this barely scratches the first few books of the Old Testament! You could say, “But that’s the Old Testament! God was different and full of wrath!” To which I reply, “Oh, God changes personality then? He is inconstant and schizophrenic? That’s comforting.”
But let’s say you’re right. What about the cozy, heartwarming stories from the New Testament? Like when the lovely baby Jesus is born and King Herod massacres all Jewish baby boys under two or three? (Kinda like with Moses.) Or that delightful, kid-friendly crucifixion – the basis of the Christian faith? Or John the Baptist’s head on a platter because King Herod lusted after his grand-niece/step-daughter (let’s not even get into the incest!)? Or Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead on the spot for lying about how much money they got for a plot of land?
We Christians give our kids such sanitized Bible stories that when they inevitably find out the truth by actually reading the Bible, our kids are totally unprepared for the brutality and hard questions these stories raise. At best they will think the Bible has no relevance to the real world and at worst, they will think the Bible a pack of lies. We rob the Bible of any teeth and power by serving it diluted. We do an immense disservice to our children when we “clean up” and serve God and the story of His people in palatable bites.
The Bible is NOT palatable. The Bible is not easy. The Bible is not safe.
The reason, of course, is that God is not palatable, easy, or safe.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis [emphasis mine]
Why are we so afraid of teaching our kids the unedited stories of the Bible? Is it because we secretly don’t believe that God is good? Or that God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts? Or maybe we are too lazy to think about these things at all? Because if we did think about what the Bible actually says about gossip, the poor, money, and grace, we would actually have to change our way of life?
I realize no parent in their right mind wants to discuss after Sunday School why it seems okay for God to kill babies or what adultery means. But that’s our job as parents. I don’t want to talk about drugs or sex or race with my kids, either, but I will because that is my job as a parent. To frame and put hard things in context. To equip my kids the best way I know how even if eventually they decide that my values and faith will not be their values and faith.
For me, that is the hardest thing. To trust that God will take care of my family and kids even if they reject everything I teach them. That even if I do everything “right,” there is no guarantee of safety or shelter from suffering. That life is like the stories in the Bible: messy, complicated, and sometimes, really screwed up.
Yes, life has beautiful and grand moments. It’s easy to think God is good then. But as we all know and experience, life is not always lovely and wonderful.
If we only cherry pick the good parts of the Bible and God, how will our children know to cleave to God when life spirals into the grimiest shit? How will they respond to the seeming disconnect between “God is good” and the world they see with their own eyes?
This is why I get so mad about Sunday School stories as they currently are. They paint a lie of the world – that if we just believe in God, everything will be shiny and full of ponies! That God makes everything better and rewards good little children. That only pillars of faith make it in the Bible – not real humans.
But that’s NOT TRUE. It is a lie.
The truth is, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) That no matter how faithful you are, sometimes, prayer doesn’t work out the way we want and families split up or friends die of cancer. That despite all our good intentions, babies starve, women are raped, and children are sexually enslaved.
It is a fallen and broken world in which we live. The same fallen and broken world in which the Bible and its characters and the story of God’s people take place. I’m not saying that Sunday School should be a depressing experience, but it should at least sometimes reflect reality and not a Pollyanna view of the world. Sunday School should be a safe place for equipping our children to examine and question what the people do (as well as how God responds) in the Bible. Sunday School should not only be a place for our kids to learn about the Bible, but to learn how to grapple with the tension between the hope and promise of a new kingdom, and the temporary reality of pain and suffering in this world.
This sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to implement this with my own children. They are young, yet. Plus, I doubt I will ever find this type of Sunday School while my kids are still eligible to attend. *sigh*
What do you do with your kids? How do you explain suffering and hope in an age-appropriate manner? For that matter, how do you approach religion and faith in your family? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking for ideas I can blatantly steal. 🙂 Cheer me up, please!