Bedtime theology with the 5 and 8 yo...
(While reading the story of Jesus calming the storm in The Jesus Storybook Bible)
Me: (Reading) “'Rescue us! Save us!' they (the disciples) shrieked. 'Don't you care?' Of course Jesus cared, and this was the very reason he had come – to rescue them and to save them.”
5 yo: Wait so Jesus brought them into that bad storm just so he could rescue them and save them?
Me: Well, I think it is talking about why Jesus came to earth, to rescue and save us in general. What do you think?
8 yo: I think Jesus just went out on that lake to take a nap.
5 yo: Okay, yeah. Let's keep going.
Like something out of a Hollywood movie, this children's Bible -- The Jesus Storybook Bible -- mentions a Secret Rescue Plan (with capital letters) that Jesus and God had for humanity. I don't fault the technique. Kids like adventure stories, plots where good battles evil, tales of harrowing escapes, whispered secret plans and daring rescues. From Paw Patrol to the Ice Age franchise (my kids' current obsession), adventure stories draw us in and keep us coming back for more.
It's not a bad idea to frame the Bible as one big story; it's actually a pretty great idea. Seeing the overall narrative arc of scripture and looking for overall and frequently mentioned themes is a great antidote to proof texting: where you pick an obscure verse about, say, shellfish or tattoos or same-gender relationships and decide it's definitive for all humanity for all time. I'm a big fan of seeing scripture as a whole. It's a story. But what is that story? What's it's main point? What shall we tell our children? What do we believe?
We have several versions of children's bibles and the one I was reading from, The Jesus Storybook Bible, does a nice job of framing scripture as a story. The first chapter explains that scripture is not a rule book with all the right answers (Hallelujah) and not a book of heroes for you to literally copy (good, good). The answer (says this Bible) is that the Bible is an adventure story about how God loves God's children and comes to rescue them. And Jesus, this bible says, is in the center of that story, and every story is about him.
I'll get back to the rescue plan in a bit, but I'll deviate for a moment to acknowledge that our Jewish siblings might take issue with the "every story in the Old Testament is about Jesus" bit. I'll also add, while we hear echoes of Jesus in, say, Isaiah and other prophets, it feels a bit...cheap?....simplistic? to try to cram Jesus into Noah's Ark or alongside Jonah in that whale. I tend to like to hear the text for what it is and how it can reveal God, rather than being caught up in forcing Jesus in. But I digress...
My son was a bit confused about the "rescue plan" language used by this Bible in the story of Jesus calming the storm. He asks a GREAT question: did Jesus bring them into a scary situation just so he could rescue them? Think about the theological implications. What kind of God would this be? Does God give us cancer just so He can miraculously cure us? Does God knock people off ladders so that they can come to Jesus? Create a worldwide pandemic so that we'll see the love of God in each other? I certainly hope not and that's not the kind of God I believe in, but how fascinating that my son heard that echo in the story.
I'm not theologically opposed to the language of God rescuing and saving us (I am Lutheran -- saved by grace!) But using the language of rescue with children might need more nuance than I provided in the above conversation.
Kids think of rescue and saving in contexts where things are scary. And while God does provide rescue and saving in some ways during scary times (medical help, loving family members, the kindness of strangers), there are other times when bad things happen and there is no rescue that a child can see. Sometimes things just fall apart. The only theological answer for this is incarnation - the love of God embodied through us as parents or caregivers or grandparents or whomever. We just hold our kids and remind them that through us, the love of God, unseen but visceral, flows.