I have struggled with and skipped over certain stories in the Bible when reading it to my children until I came to a conclusion on how to handle the scriptures. Several points on this topic stand out to me.
- The Word of God was intended for whole families to hear together. Moses commanded the people to “read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law,” (Deut. 31:11-12). Other passages indicate that is was not just normal, but expected (Joshua 8:34-35; II Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:1-8; II Timothy 3:15-17). The book of Proverbs has some racy content, but it is written from a father to his son. I think a boy needs to hear the whole book of Proverbs at least starting at 7 years old. If you wait until he is 12, it may be too late. The Bible speaks much more freely about human anatomy and sexuality than our church culture does. The original readers heard much more detail than we get in the KJV.
- If they are too young, they will not comprehend what is happening. Therefore, there is no need to worry about them being exposed too early. The Bible is not a movie where we can watch adultery in action or people’s bodies being dismembered. It is a word-based story that only mature minds can comprehend. The tough-to-swallow passages go right over the heads of the too-young-to-understand. Those who understand what it is saying need to hear it. One of my daughters burst into tears when she first heard the story of Nebuchadnezzar throwing the three Hebrew children into the fiery furnace. She could not understand how anyone could be so mean. That could be a good talking point about martyrs in our day. Absalom and Tamar have made a good discussion for our family about the whirlwind that passion can throw a person into and how devastating lust can be. I hate the story of Lot’s daughters, but it is a good lesson on why to stay connected to other believers. Lot and Abram both believed in the same God, but because of personal differences, Lot’s children did not grow up knowing the great man of faith. If they had known about him, they would not have thought they were the last survivors on earth and they would have not done what they did to preserve their family. It is also a good story about alcohol and much more. Yes, this is Genesis, one of the books all the children would have stood and listened to with their parents. Other personal details are more explicit in Leviticus and they heard that, too.
- Children need to learn about human depravity from the right source. By suppressing sexual talk as our Puritan-influenced culture does, we force the young ones to do their research elsewhere. I learned a lot from pastor’s kids and other friends at church that messed up my thinking about sexual issues for many, many years. In the church where I teach, we use the whole Word of God. We have covered the story of Onan and Tamar, Lot and the sodomites, David and Bathsheba, and many others with men, women, and children present. When I set out to teach some of these books of the Bible, I forgot what visceral reactions some stories would elicit. I hate the stories about prostitutes and such. However, I do not think myself wiser than God. I cannot justify avoiding those stories as I did for many years. They are important to warn us, teach us, and build our defenses against temptation. I would rather discuss homosexuality in the story of Sodom, as I did with my boys, than to have them learn by playing “smear the queer” as I did. To my friends, homosexuality was a joke and we all picked on the guys who were slightly effeminate with cruel terms. To my kids, it is a gross, horrific sin they want nothing to do with.
- You cannot shelter a child from awareness of sin. Some people say a knowledge of sinfulness is a loss of innocence. In reality, what we really experience is a loss of ignorance. You cannot keep your children ignorant to sin very long. I learned about and saw all kinds of filth by the time I was 8 or 9. That was before I was reading the Bible through on my own. Jesus said we need to be aware of wickedness. We should be as wise as serpents—be able to understand their slithering ways—yet be harmless as doves—never do anything harmful or malicious. Children who grow up in a sheltered home are then thrust into college or a work environment where they discover all kinds of filth they did not know was available. In that whirlwind of freedom they often make wrong choices about things they never considered before. Thus, all the efforts of the parents to shelter their young sprouts in a greenhouse are lost when they get moved out into the winds, cold, and droughts of real life. Greenhouse plants have to be “hardened off.” They have to be slowly exposed to the extremes of nature before being planted permanently. The Bible shows sin with its consequences. It is important that young believers develop some resistance to the things of this world before being forced into situations where they have to choose.
At age 12, Jesus knew the scriptures well enough to leave the experts dumbfounded. Our kids should, too.