Noah’s ark is one of the most popular kid’s bible stories. It’s also one of the most disturbing. In it, God kills just about every living thing on earth in a global flood. Why? Because people do bad things. But the story ends with God’s promise to never do it again.
What’s the moral of the story? Almost two decades later, I still have no idea. But I’m convinced the only reason this is taught to kids is that there are a bunch of animals in the story. Now, was there a flood? That’s a conversation for another time.
For now, let’s talk about how we talk about the Bible to kids. If you’re like me, then stories like Noah’s ark seemed normal. His story, along with David and Jonah, were fixtures in Sunday school curriculums and still are today. But should they be?
Sunday School That Doesn’t Require Therapy.
Almost every famous “bible hero” has a dark side. Just ask David about Bathsheba, Jonah about the Ninevites, and Noah about Ham. Their stories are complicated, but you wouldn’t know that if you grew up going to Sunday School (church for kids).
Now, it’s not wrong to hold back mature or complex details in stories to kids. But it becomes a problem when we’re told to treat these characters as role models.
Just think about the last time someone you trusted let you down. It’s disorienting and can make you doubt whether or not you ever knew that person. You might even question if your relationship with them is genuine.
Now imagine you’ve been raised to believe these heroes from famous bible stories are great role models. You believe the best of them because it’s all you’ve ever heard. And you remember their faith and courage when life is hard.
But then you grow up, and you read the stories for yourself. You learn that the man after God’s own heart assaulted a woman, murdered her husband, and spent decades in a violent downward spiral. Then you read about a prophet who hated God’s love and grace. He walked through city streets filled with men, women, and children and hoped God would destroy them all.
I could keep going, but you get the point. These Bible stories aren’t for kids. Instead, they’re complex, honest, and often brutal accounts. And you can’t un-read them, no matter how much you might want to.
For me, discovering the true nature of my favorite “bible heroes” shook my trust in God. They were my north star and gave me examples of how to live. But now I felt disgusted. So I made the messy choice to start re-making my faith. Maybe you had the same reaction to the old favorites and needed to find a new way forward.
How can we do better?
Well-meaning churches do their best to teach these ancient stories to kids. And I don’t have a problem taking out some more mature details. But I think we do need to change how we talk about the characters themselves.
There are no heroes in the Bible (except Jesus). Everyone makes intentional choices that cause harm, including Bible heroes. So let’s be open about that to kids. Instead of presenting David as a perfect example, talk about ways David showed God’s love and when David was wrong.
Doing this might feel uncomfortable, but it can help kids find a better way to follow Jesus. Because instead of getting a few Biblical role models, they’re actually gaining wisdom.
- The wisdom to know that followers of God don’t always get it right.
- The wisdom to understand that people can follow God and then choose a harmful path.
- The wisdom to tell the difference between someone who says they know God and someone who embodies the nature of God.
How we use the Bible matters, especially when we teach it to kids. Well-meaning people can unintentionally cause lifelong trauma by teaching these stories poorly. So let’s be honest about the Bible.
How We Can Teach Kids Bible Stories
Talk about David the hero and David the villain. Talk about what traits made David a good leader and the bad choices that led to his moral downfall.
Teach the story of Jonah, where the unexpected people end up being the good guys of the story. Lead kids to think about how they can show kindness to the people they might not get along with. In other words, teach them to be the anti-Jonah.
And Noah’s ark? Well, how about we just skip that one. I know, it feels impossible with all the fun animals. But if you ever get the urge to teach the story to kids, imagine explaining to a five-year-old why a God who loves the world would kill just about everyone. That should “inspire” you to choose a different story to talk about.
The Bible has some helpful stories for kids. But we need to creatively engage with them to help children understand. We should hold back from teaching the more violent and disturbing parts of Bible stories. But we also need to avoid treating complex characters like perfect people.
If you found this post meaningful, check out this article on the story of Jonah.