A few years back, a mother of pre-school children on one of my Internet forums had commented:
What I had on my mind this morning is perhaps the problem [introducing young children to the truths of the God] would be solved if we just read to them right from the Bible? [And she specifically mentioned the King James version.] Are we sheltering our children too much by not letting them see how bad human nature really is? At least with the Bible, they can see the consequences of sin and what to do when one does sin. Not so with the stories in pop culture.
Below is the essence of my reply to her, along with some further thoughts I’ve had on the topic recently:
In this case we might want to ask “What would Joseph do?”
As in the Daddy of Jesus.
Or any other Daddy in Bible Times… or throughout most of history. We need to remember that the luxury of every family having every jot and tittle of scripture available in a book to read at our convenience in our own homes is only a recent phenomenon.
I think you’d find that most parents in Bible Times would have “retold stories” from the Bible to their young children from their own minds. I think this is still the most effective method. For those parents who aren’t very creative these days, we have the simplified Bible story books that perform the same job. You may want to avoid those that are extemporaneous re-tellings that may even include subtle doctrinal bias from the author. But there are many that just take their wording word-for-word from a modern translation such as the NIV, but condense it down to just the relevant sentences for a short two-page spread story.
You could just read to them from the King James Bible, from cover to cover. But this may not be really helpful to young children in terms of their own level of comprehension and mental and emotional development. Yes, we appreciate fine literature and want our offspring to learn to love it … but do we really expect them to “get it” when listening to Elizabethan poetry or the works of Shakespeare (which were from the same era as the KJV) at age 5? I’m not even saying that we can’t read them Elizabethan poetry actually, if the purpose is just to “expose” them to the flow of the language and such. But to think that a five year old is going to get much out of it cognitively I believe is expecting quite a bit from someone who may not even “know their right hand from their left.” Even Paul talks about “milk” and “meat” regarding spiritual understanding for adults. How much more might that apply to children?
I wouldn’t downplay for young children the value of emphasizing the very basic stories included in most Bible Story books, including the parables of Jesus and simple versions of the story of His life. There are life lessons and important understanding about the nature of God and the nature of His relationship to Man that can be drawn from all of the simplest excerpts of the Bible record. The real issue isn’t even exactly what you read or what you weave as a story teller. It would, in my mind, be how you “elaborate” on what you have read or told, and allow them to help you draw conclusions about the events and attitudes and such in the stories you cover.
I would hope that at the youngest of ages we would shelter our children from the worst of human nature and experience in “pop culture” … but also in the Bible too. It is not necessary to prematurely expose them to the worst in order to begin teaching them the best. If they are steeped in what is the best … “The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” … then as they are gradually exposed to the reality of evil in the world, and in the biblical record, they will recognize it themselves, for it won’t match what they have learned things “should be like.”
Strangely enough, this is how bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit money. They are not given counterfeits over and over in their training and encouraged to figure out what made them false. They are given legitimate bills and encouraged to become intimately familiar with every aspect of those. Then when they are handed a counterfeit, they won’t even have to pinpoint exactly all the false aspects of it… they may well just intuitively sense “something isn’t right.” And beyond that, they will know what to look for that makes real money …real. If those characteristics are missing, they will confirm that what they are looking at the false.
I’d heard this claim about how folks are trained to identify counterfeits many years ago. But I decided today to do a little digging on the Net to make sure this wasn’t just an Urban Legend. I was pleased to find a blogger who had done his homework on this very topic, and interviewed a currency expert at the Bank of Canada. She confirmed to him that the basic concept is indeed part of the training they give their employees. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of his findings, and the lessons he took away from the experience, on his blog.
I was discussing this with my husband this morning, and he reminded me how much it sounds like Jesus’ comment that His sheep know His voice, and they don’t know the voice of strangers, and will not follow them. Indeed, sheep don’t learn to identify who ISN’T their shepherd, by continual exposure to others. They just spend so much time with the one person who IS their shepherd, that they recognize every nuance of his voice and immediately realize when some voice is missing those nuances.
I have a couple of other simple applications of this principle of knowing what “should be” that applied to my own young daughter, Mona. When Mona (now 40) was 2, we took her to see the Disney movie Fantasia. When it got to the section that showed various mythological creatures including centaurs (half man, half horse) she burst out giggling and expounded for all to hear, “That man has horse’s feets. That no should be!”
I didn’t have to point out to her that this was fiction. She knew, from her limited exposure to pictures of horses and being around men that men just DIDN’T ever have “horse’s feets.”
Another example: From early on, we always taught her never to litter—not even throw a tiny gum wrapper on the ground. It was just “the way things were.” As she became old enough to understand some of the reason why, we would talk about such scenarios as what would happen if every person in her city just tossed their gum wrappers on the ground all the time. Eventually we’d be knee-deep in gum wrappers! And thus as she grew older and watched teenagers walk by our house from school and carelessly toss McDonald’s cups and burger wrappers on the lawn, she was aghast. How COULD they act so irresponsibly?? We didn’t have to point any of this out to her. She spotted it all on her own.
In other words, she knew what “the real thing” looked like, and when confronted with a distortion, she recognized immediately “that no should be.” I believe young children are capable of the same thing regarding more abstract notions of moral behavior.
A very young child who has never even seen someone in their own corner of the real world strike another person in vicious anger doesn’t necessarily need yet to see the full picture of the carnage of war and crime in the Bible, or on the nightly news. If they are nurtured in an environment where kindness is the cornerstone, they will internalize that value.
In the early years of our country, small children were weaned on books that described the imagined tortures of hell. This was thought to be necessary to “scare them out of hell.” And thus a six year old might hear or read stories in which children or teens were naughty, died at a young (but “accountable”) age, and went to hell. And she would perhaps read vivid descriptions about a bonnet bursting into flames and searing a head, with the skin popping and crackling but never being consumed, and small bare feet dancing forever on burning coals. This sounds very gross to us, but I’m not sure it is any more gross than forcing a young child of that age to focus on the Bible story of the concubine of the fellow being gang-raped, dying, and then being cut into pieces to be mailed around to the various tribes. Thus I really do think that it is appropriate to choose which Bible stories will be most helpful in leading children to understand the love of God, and the basic principles of obedience to Him and love toward Him and to fellow man.
There’s plenty of time later for the “Soap Opera” parts of the Bible!
If we immerse our young children’s thoughts in “whatsoever is good, pure, of good report,” both in the world and in the Bible, when they finally encounter a situation that is far from those qualities, they will immediately realize, “That no should be!”
In fact, maybe we adults ought to consider whether it might be good if we would become more like little children ourselves, and focus more in our thoughts on all those things that should be … rather than on what “no should be.”