Friday, July 18, 2008

Five-Year-Olds and Icky Bible Stories

...They love them.

Ok, here's the story. Tonya has been including a daily Bible reading every morning as part of the regular schoolwork of the Pillowfight Fairy. They're still toward the beginning of the book of Genesis, since they've only been doing this now for the last two weeks, and they've been going sequentially. And after the Fairy reads the passage from the Bible, she is assigned to write a little about the story--at this point one sentence is sufficient, since she's only five--and then is permitted to illustrate a scene drawn from the passage.

Now, this brings up an interesting dilemma for Mommy.

After all, the Bible has a lot of "hard" stories in it. Yes, there are all the fun, uplifting stories, but there is a lot of smiting in the Bible, too. And even the Heroes of the Bible have their dark moments from time to time--there are very few people that show up in Scripture who are wholly unblemished. David had his Uriah & Bathsheba episode; Abraham lied on occasion to save his sorry hide; Sarah was very, very mean to her slave girl Hagar and her son; even St. Peter had to be pulled aside for a stern talking to by St. Paul at one point. The Bible doesn't whitewash the failings of its heroes. On the contrary, it seems to put them on display, perhaps as a lesson to us that even the most righteous are still sinners, or that God accepts us even in spite of our flaws.

So what does a Mommy do, who's trying to teach something of her faith to her little ones, when presented with these icky stories? Well, if you're as tough-minded and no-nonsense as my wife is, you include those stories right along with all the other ones, on the theory that God put them in the Bible for a reason. One does not airbrush Scripture just because a five year old might get a little weirded out.

Well, Mommy came to this decision while trying to figure out what to do with the little story in Genesis 9, verse 18 through the end of the chapter.

(Incidentally, we are using this translation for the Fairy's first-grade studies. It's based on the New International Readers' Version, which is a simplification (but not an abridgment!) of the New International Version. Charlotte Mason would be appalled, but our five-year-old likes it.)

The story is the only one in the Bible talking about what happened to Noah in the years after the whole Ark incident. In the NIrV, it goes like this:
The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. The people who were scattered over the earth came from Noah's three sons.

Noah was a man who worked the ground. He decided to plant a vineyard. He drank some of its wine. It made him drunk. Then he lay down inside his tent without any clothes on. Ham saw his father's naked body. Ham was the father of Canaan. Ham went outside and told his two brothers.

But Shem and Japheth took a piece of clothing. They laid it across their shoulders. Then they walked backward into the tent. They covered their father's body. They turned their faces away. They didn't want to see their father's naked body.

Then Noah woke up from his sleep that was caused by the wine. he found out what his youngest son had done to him. He said,

"May a curse be put on Canaan.
He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers."

Noah also said,

"May the LORD, the God of Shem be blessed.
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God add land to Japheth's territory.
May Japheth live in the tents of Shem.
And may Canaan be their slave."

After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Noah lived a total of 950 years. Then he died.
To my mind, this definitely qualifies as one of the Icky stories of the Bible. And it's hard to come up with an actual theological lesson or life application of this little story, other than don't get so plastered that you fall asleep with all your clothes off in a tent somewhere while your kids are running around.

The Pillowfight Fairy loved it, loved it, loved it! She was particularly moved by the fact that Ham saw his daddy naked! And he went to go tell everybody about it! From the way she was enthusiastically explaining this point to everyone who would listen, it's pretty apparent that she would have done exactly the same thing.

(Memo to myself: Don't get so plastered that I.... you know.)

Ok, so it came time for her to compose and write out a sentence relating to this story. Her offering:

...And really, what more is there to say?

But for the really fun part, she got to illustrate this story. I, for one, am happy that she's not so far into Drawing With Children yet that she felt the need to put a little too much realistic detail on Noah. Sometimes, stick figures are good.
I really like the tent, actually. And I like the flip-flops. I had no idea that people in Noah's day wore flip-flops! Or that they looked so much like fluffy bunny slippers.

Without getting too pedantic, I think this story illustrates the idea that we parents are in many ways more squeamish than our kids, when it comes to the Bible's hard stories (or the hard stories in any high-quality childrens' literature, for that matter). The kids take them in stride. We grown-ups are the ones who get weirded out by them; but I'm not sure we do any favors when we say to ourselves, "This scripture is too mature for them; they're not ready to handle it yet." Actually, these stories are precisely the ones that the kids really get into--the ones with all the head-chopping, the ones with all the unsavory details, the ones where the Great Heroes pick their toes.

We can hardly wait until we get to the story about Lot's daughters!

(Note: that was sarcasm. But if you couldn't tell, you need to read your Bible a little more.)


SmallWorld at Home said...

Hilarious! I have to say I never thought about leaving anything out in reading the Bible to the kids, other than I think I might have skipped much of Leviticus. Love Noah's sandals!

Timothy Power said...

Well, there's a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to present to kids--especially five year olds. Leviticus is a good example of this--especially the fifteenth chapter. :P But there's all that genealogy in First Chronicles; there's all the stuff on the Building of the Tabernacle, which just goes on and on... and there's the theological writings of the letters of Paul, which are really, really deep.

But because there's so much stuff in the Bible, it's not like we wind up at a loss for material if we hold something for later. So at some point we all have to choose what to hold off for when the kid is older.

It's just that we adults aren't always the best judges as to what would be best left for later. I can't imagine my five-year-old getting into the genealogies, but she's surprised me before, so who knows? After all, genealogies can be fascinating, if you know a little something about all the people in the line of descent.

But as for the "Ick" factor, my girls are at the age where they think guts are funny. They handle it better than my wife and I do. ;-)

(And speaking of "judges", there's a whole lot of "Ick" there as well.)

Anonymous said...

ever consider starting off with the new testament?

Timothy Power said...

Daniel, my wife--upon reading your question--was inspired to write a very complete answer to your question, to which I can only add, "Yeah--what she said." Her post is here.