Old Testament Bedtime Theology with the 4 yo...
4 yo: Mom, God made rainbows?
Me: (Starts with brief explanation of rainbows appearing after rain and then...) And, yes, God made rainbows.
4 yo: Why God made rainbows?
Me: Well, there's a story in the Bible about God making a rainbow. Do you remember that one? It's about Noah and his boat, and the flood. And after the flood, God sent a rainbow as a promise of God's love, and that God would never flood the earth again.
4 yo: Wait, wait, wait who made the flood?
Me: (Slightly dreading this) Well, honey, the Bible story says God sent the flood.
4 yo: Why?
Me: Well, God wanted to wash the earth clean, and give it a bath.
4 yo: It was a big flood?
Me: Yes, it covered the whole earth.
4 yo: But what about the animals?
Me: Well, Noah took two of each one on the boat.
4 yo: But what about the other ones?
Me: Many of them probably died.
4 yo: They died? Why?
Me: Well, many of them can't swim.
4 yo: But why God want the animals to die?
Me: Well honey, I don't think it's a story about animals dying. I think it's more about how God loved Noah and his family and kept them safe.
4 yo: Wait, this story is real?
Me: What do you think?
4 yo: (Pauses) I think yes. What do you think?
Me: I think maybe. But I think it's definitely a story of Noah getting through a hard time with God.
4 yo: It was a hard time?
Me: Yes, I think it probably was.
4 yo: But not for the swimming animals! They got a new home!
I love rainbows as much as the next gal, but this is not my favorite Bible story. God wants a do-over! Entire civilizations washed away! Helpless animals drown! I wouldn't let my kids watch this cartoon.
These stories are scary. After this chat, the 4 yo wanted to know if there were floods in our state and what would we do if there was a flood. We talked about weather forecasters who will warn us and that we live in a generally flood-free zone. But still.
I once read a discussion of the Noah story in a Christian parenting Facebook group. I scrolled with some trepidation until one post caught my eye. A parent said she explains the Noah story this way: all cultures tell stories of how their people came through difficult times, and how God (or their gods) were with them through that. Is that too ambiguous for children? I don't think so. Children understand the power of story.
The Bible is not a science book, no a historical volume. It's poetry, pose, song, story, lament, letters and testimony. Most stories were oral traditions for years. When God's people were exiled in Babylon in the 7th century BCE, someone thought to write them down. Imagine the conquered Hebrew people living in a strange land: homes destroyed, loved ones dead, sacred temple demolished. You, too, might write down an impossible story of God bringing beloved ones through a flood. You might wish the same for yourself. As you rocked your children to sleep in a world that seemed to be falling apart, you might whisper a story about a God powerful enough to carry us through the water, to a rainbow on the other side.