One of the sweetest routines my daughter and son-in-law have established with my grandchildren is the practice of reading Bible stories before bedtime. When I babysit, I continue the practice. My granddaughter is 3-1/2, so she chooses the story of the night based on the pictures in her children’s Bible. One night she selected the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on the altar.
I must admit, I hesitated. Sally Lloyd Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible doesn’t mince words. “Abraham took the knife. Tears were filling up his eyes. Pain was filling up his heart. His hand was shaking. He lifted the knife high into the air . . .”
I was awfully tempted to flip the page to a happier, easier-to-explain story. Perhaps you’ve felt the same way when you’ve encountered a disturbing or difficult portion of the Bible while reading to your children. I’d like to share three stories you’ll want to think hard about before you skip them.
Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
An aging centenarian forces his adolescent son to carry a load of wood up a mountain so he can slit his throat and sacrifice him on an altar. Whaaaat? If this isn’t the stuff nightmares are made of, I don’t know what is.
Except for one thing—Abraham’s story teaches a powerful lesson we don’t want our children to miss. Jesus repeated it in the New Testament: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Mat. 22:37). Because we know the end of the story—that God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac—we can’t just skip it.
Our children need to know that following God means trusting and obeying, even when we don’t fully understand. They must learn to seek God’s face and recognize his voice. And they need to catch a glimpse of the Father heart of God, who would one day sacrifice his only son (for real) on our behalf.
You’re probably wondering why the story of Noah’s ark is on this list of Bible stories we never tell our kids. Doesn’t every child know the story? From the time they were babies they’ve been falling asleep in nurseries decorated with colorful scenes of a big, brown boat carrying smiling animals (two by two), bobbing gently on the water, with jolly Mr. and Mrs. Noah at the helm.
Sunday School teachers describe to their preschool classes how God told Noah to build an ark to protect his family and preserve the animals during the flood. And lest little ones grow fearful the next time it rains, every lesson also includes the rainbow promise that God will never again destroy the world with water.
What we neglect to tell them, however, as Paul Harvey would say, is “the rest of the story.” In an attempt to protect them, we strategically omit some of the gory details of this story. Like what happened after the rain began to fall and God shut the door. What happened to the people outside Noah’s immediate family? What happened to the animals that didn’t make it onto the ark? What happened to the towns, cities, and landscape?
By only telling half the story, we focus on the rescue and minimize the rebellion. We sell the story short and miss the valuable lessons our children and grandchildren need to learn—that not only does God preserve the righteous, he also punishes the rebellious. Our kids need to know that sin has a cost. That we can’t ignore God’s warnings and get away with it. That while God is longsuffering, there is a limit to his patience.
David and Bathsheba
Adultery and murder aren’t exactly subjects for the children’s hour, but once again, to skip over this sad/bad narrative is to miss out on a valuable teaching opportunity. I’ll never forget watching Veggie Tales’ King George and the Ducky with my young children. Based on the story of David and Bathsheba, Phil Vischer and his Big Idea Entertainment team put an age-appropriate spin on this R-rated tale.
By taking a page from Nathan the Prophet’s script, the Veggie Tales creators tell a story about the rich and powerful King George. He was so rich he owned dozens of rubber duckies for his bath time pleasure. One day he looked out his window and spotted his neighbor bathing with his prized possession, his one and only rubber duck. Selfishness burned in King George’s heart, causing him to covet and steal his neighbor’s precious toy.
I had heard the story of David and Bathsheba a hundred times, but it had never occurred to me that, in addition to lust, selfishness and ingratitude were at the root of King David’s horrible sins against Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah. A very adult story, seen through a child-appropriate retelling, enlightened me. We can do the same for our children by introducing them to Bible stories we might otherwise skip, as long as we use careful thought and consideration for their age and maturity.
Valuable take-away points in the story of David and Bathsheba include the fact that we never sin in a vacuum. The effects of sin always reach far beyond ourselves. Our children also need to know that although God forgives us when we confess and repent, he may still allow us to experience the natural consequences of our actions. Probably the greatest lesson we can share with our kids from David and Bathsheba’s sad tale, however, is the appropriate way to respond when we’ve sinned—honest confession—using David’s words as an example: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12: 13).
Sharing adult-themed Bible stories with children requires sensitivity, creativity, God-given wisdom, and prayer. Thankfully, God promises to help us. I often pull James 1:5, my well-worn parenting (and now grandparenting) verse out of my spiritual pocket when I’m unsure how to tackle challenging moments. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God faithfully answers my call for help, and he’ll do the same for you.
So the next time you encounter a difficult passage of the Bible with your kids, instead of skipping it, ask yourself two questions:
- Does this passage contain a lesson my children need to learn?
- How can I make the story age-appropriate without watering down its message?
Then pray, inviting God to give you his wisdom, insight, and words. Believe in faith that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:1-17).
May God bless you as teach and train your children.
Father, thank you for the privilege of raising our children in faith. Help us teach them to love your Word and apply it to their lives. Give us wisdom to know what is appropriate to share with them and when. In Jesus name I ask, Amen.