We just concluded our Summer Bible Camp today, and one of the things I asked as I briefly addressed our guests was why we are dealing with such serious themes with children? Why are we not just having a saccarine sweet, nostalgic, feel good time? Isn’t this why we line the kids up and have them sing, isn’t this the point of church— make our kids as happy and clappy as possible?
Our curriculum had plenty of happiness woven in, but it was a happiness that sprang from the continual reminder of Christ’s deliverance of his people from our sin through the suffering of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. The great allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” was published in 1678, and John Bunyan accurately creates a story that mirrors that of the Christian’s real journey through life. One that is not categorized by nostalgic feelings, sentimentality, or a series of entertainments; but, a real life that includes darkness, attacks by the enemy, doubts, despair, temptation— true evil. Yet, also a true hope in Christ that has overcome this evil on our behalf. And, we were explaining these things to our children! Why? Because this is exactly what the Bible itself does, and is exactly what characterizes the real life that our children and ourselves live and are called to grow within. To deny this reality is to shut off true truth to ourselves and our kids— how can we possibly survive and how can our children’s faith survive if we hide our heads away from real sin before a holy God and burrow in to the comfort of the American suburban dream? I believe this is one of the greatest temptations facing the American church today.
Which brings me to the tragic massacre that occurred in Charleston 2 nights ago. Certainly, depending on the age of a child, they should only be exposed to a certain amount of detail when it comes to such brutality— we should be shields and censors on behalf of our children. Yet, we should also seek to thoughtfully engage our kids with the truth of the broken world within which we live. Our kids must know what evil is and what good is, what sin is (anything that breaks the Law of God by commission or ommission), and what righteousness is. They MUST know this! And, if we don’t sit down with them, communicate, ask and answer questions, clarify, define, point them to the true truth of God revealed in the Bible, if we don’t do this as the church and as fathers and mothers and teachers and adult examples, then someone else will. The culture will be very happy to define and teach and parent and indoctrinate our children for us according to the world’s values and the whims of the current feelings on race, sex, gender, violence, love, relationship, truth, identity, freedom, shame, origins, and ultimate destinations. This does not mean we withdraw from the culture, or fortify ourselves in a family friendly ghetto; but, it does mean that we must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in order to live in and engage the world with the truth of the gospel and all its implications without being ensnared or drawn in or lulled into blindness by the values and vision of a world that is vandalized by sin in every human capacity, and expects all other worldviews to come under the lordship of our culture.
With all of this as a preface I encourage you to speak with your children, and speak to one another about the reality of evil that we saw explode in Charleston recently. I did this last night with my own kids.
How do we do this?
Here are some ideas and words to consider:
- Return to THE STORY— Remember that months-long series last year on the Mission of God? One fundamental point to that entire series is that the Bible tells a true story of God’s mission to bring glory to himself. He does this first through the: Creation— “God made all things good, humans after his own image and this was very good. This is the basic framework we must begin with when thinking about racial sin and sin in general. God created race. He gave skin its different tones, and this is good. Its very good. Our kids need to know that race and skin colors and different languages and diversity of cultures is a good thing.” Rebellion— “yet, humanity refused to obey the Lord, we worshiped the created things rather than the creator (Rom 1). And, so the things that were created good became the objects of our worship, and so became distorted. This includes race, but also can include our human sexual desire as well. We worshiped race. Race became the core of our identity, our defining feature, one race better than another, skin and body features defining the “goodness” or “badness” of people, the trustworthyness of people, the “humanness” or “inhumanness” of people who were created in God’s image. This is a tragedy.”
- Return to the Story— There is another story to return to. And, this is the story of the African-American experience in America. You need to know this, or at least be familiar with broad brush strokes, and we need to help our kids be familiar with the context of the injustice that still exists today. “Because of the worship and distortion of race, darker skinned people in Africa were forced into slavery, sold, families broken apart to enter into forced labor and a fear and shame-based culture in the Americas. This was also done to the native peoples of this place as well. Centuries of slavery, fear, hatred, shame, and being crushed down by the power of others has attached itself to the way our culture works— even though slavery is ended, hate and fear and restriction has continued for darker skinned people because of their race. There have been long periods of time when people with darker skin were killed, terrorized, beaten, their things stolen or burned because they wanted to be able to vote, or say hello to a white person, or swim in a public pool, or even eat lunch in a restaurant. And, even though the law says this isn’t allowed to happen any more, the law can’t change people’s hearts. The law can’t stop people from worshiping the wrong thing. And, so people continue to worship race, and they continue to hate people who have a different skin color. And, people with darker skin in our country still feel a lot of this hate, distrust, and restrictions even today.”
- Return to THE story— Share the broad story of what has happened in SC, sparing gory details, being sensitive when answering questions, and being careful to identify evil as evil, sin as sin; yet, also making sure that this is not connected to the whiteness or any other easily identifiable outward feature of the killer, but is connected to the heart of sin— and that is the worship of something other than the true Triune God which makes our hearts sin and makes us blind to sin. “There are still people that worship race so much that they keep hating anyone else that is a of different race, even though God made all different races to be a very good thing. These people, even some who say they know Jesus, are worshipping the wrong thing, they’re sinning against God, they’re idolaters and they don’t even know it. The other night one of these people, far from here, in Charleston SC, because of how he made his whiteness into his god had so much hate in his heart for darker skinned people, that he went to a church while our brothers and sisters were praying to the one true God, and he shot and killed some of them because of his hate. He killed 9 people because of the color of their skin. This is how horrible the worship of things other than the true God can become. Not only does sin hurt ourselves but it hurts other people also.”
- RETURN TO THE STORY— Our kids need to be reminded of what God has done to redeem his people through the incarnation, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. When I say “redeem,” this means to “buy back,” and thus the truth of real sin- both systemic but also personal- and its enslaving consequences must be included in any conversation about “redemption.” Many popular pastors like to say “redemption” these days, yet leave out what people are actually redeemed FROM. Redemption— Kids need to know what sin looks like, and they need to know that they themselves sin, and they need to know what Jesus has done to redeem, cleanse, and restore them through the gift of his body and blood. They need to know that this is open to any who respond to the calling of God’s grace. That this grace is even available to the worst of people, even Dylann Roof. Restoration— They need to know that Jesus is King, that one day he will return to set all things right, to judge and punish the evil in this world, to restore and renew the bodies of his people and the physical creation he delights in. And, as a result of this we pray “thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven…” We can pray for God’s kingdom renewal to break into this world into and through our lives right now. That means that we can lead and help our kids to pray for the families of those who were killed. For the congregation of Emmanuel AME. For the African-American community. For the repentance and conversion of Dylann Roof. For the comfort and encouragement of the darker skinned people who are in our own lives, for our own repentance in neglecting to love and be loved by these brothers and sisters, and for our church to be used by God to both receive the gospel and live out the implications of the gospel through our genuine sacrificial and generous love for others.
We must walk our kids through this based on the categories provided us through the Scriptures, the theology that comes through them, the worldview shaped by this Word, and the grand story within which we find ourselves. If we don’t do this with true truth, then the culture will with its own distorted version of reality, and this injustice, hate, idolatry, and pain will continue to inflict its wounds upon people and overtake us with complacency, numbness, and blindness in the process.
We must face this and help one another and our children face this in the power and hope of Christ together.