Explaining the Bible to children

Anyone who has grown up with Bible stories will likely still remember very specific images. These may have been beautiful pictures from a lovingly illustrated children’s Bible, or perhaps some especially unsettling pictures that you wanted to look at again and again in fascination as a child. This clearly shows us that telling the stories is not the only important thing.

Explaining the stories

In some cases, stories that are understood incorrectly can even lead to a rejection of things biblical. Especially if children develop feelings of guilt that they are unable to process (for example, Jesus suffered incredible pain on the cross because I am disobedient), they might well decide to break away from such an unbearable faith as a last resort and decide they want nothing more to do with it as adults. For this reason, children desperately need to have the opportunity not only to hear but also to talk about the stories of the Bible. Particular attention should be paid to the images depicting a biblical story. These are always interpretations of Holy Scripture, and they can have a very lasting effect on children. Parents and educators should take extra time when a child sees such an image, in order to be able to answer their questions in detail.

The Bible contains numerous events that might be perceived as cruel or brutal. Many people may find it frightening to read about stories in which God commands the extermination of an entire people, including children and pets. Most adults would not read such stories to their children, or might deliberately falsify them with loving intent. Experience shows that children who do, for whatever reason, find a passage from the Bible to be cruel or violent can sometimes respond in a rather unexpected way. For example, a child might hear the story of Noah and be left with the horrifying perception of an angry God bent on drowning him, instead of concluding from it that God saves those who obey Him in miraculous fashion.

Basically, the important thing for children is that evil be punished. The cruelty or savagery of this punishment does not frighten them if it restores the order of the world. This is why it is no problem at all for the big, bad wolf of fairy tale lore to be stuffed with stones and drowned. In fact, it would be rather unsettling to the children if the wolf were simply released. This kind of uncertainty would likewise weigh on a child if the story were to portray God as unpredictable or arbitrary. This could even cause a child to develop anxieties.

Developing the proper understanding

One reason that Bible stories are often difficult to understand for children is that the biblical texts are not usually addressed to children, but to adults. Beyond that, the texts are very old, and have come into being in the context of cultures that now seem foreign and strange to us. Today we need to integrate these old stories into worldviews that prevail in the present. Even the societal norms of that time are hardly comprehensible to us today. The Bible also contains many linguistic or mystical images, for example, when it explains something divine or future-oriented. Children are not yet able to interpret these as such, however, and will thus understand them literally.

For the development of a living faith it is necessary to deal with the main statements that come to expression in these stories. Children need someone to help them establish connections between the biblical stories and their lives today. Only then will they be better able to gradually grasp the abstract matter of faith, and develop a plausible conception of God and His kingdom. In this way, children can become acquainted with the Bible as a precious treasure that will help them develop a wonderful faith.

Allowing for questions

The person reading or telling a story has a decisive influence on the first impression it will make on a child. If he or she personally is positive about the story, is open to new insights, and is not afraid of questions or doubts, then the child can get into it much more easily than it would in a tense setting in which the child feels that there is something negative resonating with the story. This is also why it is so important for the person reading the story to feel that he or she has a good understanding of the story and its message.

Anyone wishing to share a biblical story with a child need not be afraid of questions that he or she cannot answer. Doubts that arise about certain aspects of faith should not be suppressed either. What is much more important is the question of how one reacts to these. When a child experiences that a lack of understanding or a thought of doubt about a given situation does not immediately shake their faith, this can teach them that questions can be helpful in advancing in our faith. In this way, the child will later be better able to deal with the fact that we human beings simply cannot always understand God.

Photo: julien leiv - stock.adobe.com

This article first appeared in Unsere Familie magazine, issue No. 3/2020.

Article info


More from this author