In this post, we’ll take a look at how to discuss our bizarre, baffling Bible with our kids.
In my last post, titled “Our Bizarre, Baffling Bible,” I discussed how strange the Bible can be, and how it is important that we openly discuss those odd things with our children and grandchildren.
Here’s the main point: Our kids need to understand:
- It’s not how strange a claim is that should determine its plausibility
- But rather what evidence there is to support it
How to Discuss Bizarre, Baffling Biblical Strangeness
When talking with others about strange Bible stories, I first like to honestly admit that the story IS a strange one.
For some reason, admitting it almost always seems to reduce the level of stress in the room. Admitting how crazy some Bible stories sound can be a great place to start some very meaningful conversations!
Natasha Cain, in her post titled, “Parents, Please Don’t Forget How Strange the Bible Is” [http://christianmomthoughts.com/parents-please-dont-forget-how-strange-the-bible-is/] lists 3 kinds of Biblical oddities you will come across: cultural, supernatural, and theological.
Cultural strangeness refers to things that made perfect sense to people in their own social settings, but which seem like utter nonsense to us today. Here’s an example: Genesis 15:9—21.
God seals a covenant he made with Abraham by having him cut some animals in half, leaving a path in the middle for God to pass through (as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch).
This was a type of Ancient Near eastern legal ritual to seal a covenant. (Here’s an explanation). [http://www.gotquestions.org/blood-covenant.html]
It was meaningful to Abraham based on his cultural context, but is a completely foreign idea to us.
Natasha says that stories with elements of cultural strangeness are a great opportunity to:
- Research what the significance of something was in an ancient culture.
- Emphasize that the Bible communicates real history across thousands of years, so we naturally read about people who lived very differently than we do.
- Talk about why so many laws very strange to us today exist in the Bible (like what to do if your ox falls into a pit—Exodus 21:33).
By definition, any supernatural event in the Bible should be considered “strange.” “Miracles” are by definition not part of our everyday experience.
According to Cain, stories with supernatural strangeness are a great opportunity to:
- Acknowledge that some people assume miracles aren’t possible, so they reject the Bible without consideration. If God exists, however, miracles are possible (this is why it’s so important that your kids understand the evidence for God’s existence—the entire plausibility of the resurrection miracle rests on whether or not God exists).
- Talk about how miracles were astounding to the people who witnessed them; just because they lived thousands of years ago doesn’t necessarily mean they were more gullible than we are. For example, when Jesus lived, people knew exactly what death was and that dead people don’t come back to life. Something very significant had to have happened to convince them that a dead man was resurrected.
- Explain how miracles filled very specific purposes of God. A lot of skeptics have the idea that the Bible reads like a fairy tale—page after page of events that defy common experience. Given the lack of a continual stream of similar events today, they say the Bible lacks credibility (why believe God used to endlessly play in the world during biblical times but not today?). However, if you read the Bible carefully, you’ll notice that throughout thousands of years of history, there were actually just three relatively brief but prominent periods of miracles: the time of Moses and the Exodus, the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the early church. Biblical miracles primarily occurred when God would have needed to authenticate His messengers and their message at key times in history. When considered in this context, there’s good reason for believing that if God exists, and He wanted to reveal Himself to mankind, He would have used miracles in exactly the way we see.
Some things in the Bible are strange to us because we just don’t expect God to act in certain ways or say certain things. This is a very subjective strangeness, but an important one.
Skeptics are often quick to point out that they don’t believe in God because they don’t believe God would (fill in the blank with any number of claims from the Bible).
Natasha continues that when something in the Bible seems to defy your or your kids’ personal expectations of what God would say or do, it’s a great opportunity to:
- Call it out! I often tell my kids, “If I were God, I totally would have set this world up differently.” (For example, I think everyone should have the same life span. I’d like to discuss that with God someday.) My kids are amused when they agree that something would seemingly be more fair or make more sense if they were another way. And it’s a great chance to discuss how limited our understanding is of what God knows and wants to accomplish.
- Talk about the fact that God hasn’t told us everything we’d like to know, and that is something we have to get comfortable with.
- Discuss theological tensions, like the problem of evil (that is, why bad things happen to good people while good things happen to bad people). It’s certainly “strange” in many respects that evil exists in the world despite God being the world’s perfectly good creator. But if we never discuss that, our kids can end up thinking we haven’t considered the problem ourselves, or that there aren’t any good answers.
If God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and if our ways are not His ways, (Isaiah 55:8, 9) then it would be logical to expect God’s Word to be filled with things that are strange, bizarre and baffling to us.
When you take the time to acknowledge and discuss these strange biblical stories with your kids and grandkids, it will give them the important opportunity to critically think through their own beliefs.
And, it will help them to understand why, sometimes, strange is exactly what we should expect.
What are YOUR thoughts on the “strangeness” of the Bible?
Which biblical accounts have you had the most difficulty explaining to your kids?