Is the Bible too violent for kids?
Most children's books don't contain murder and destruction, so is the Bible inappropriate for the young?
The other night I was babysitting some kids from church. It was just about time for them to go to bed, but first we needed to read the Bible. The four-year-old decided she'd find the place where the family were up to. She opened up to the story of Cain and Abel.
The account of the first murder in history isn't exactly the typical bedtime reading for under 5's. And yet, there in the kids' Bible it said "While they were in the field, Cain killed Abel."
So I read through the story, trying not to place too much emphasis on the killing part, and got to the next story which I hoped would be a little less violent. Noah's Ark. That was a better story, surely? It's got a nice man, a big boat, two of every type of animal ... and the complete destructiion of everything and everyone on earth apart from a select few. Oh.
The 'bad bits' of the Bible
If anyone ever tells you that the stories of the bible are just made up for kids, don't listen to them! One only has to open up the Old Testament (or even watch the show The Bible on TV) to see that there's plenty of violence, murder, desolation and wrath. Not the usual ingredients for a bedtime story.
So why does the Bible contain this stuff? It's because what we're reading is a true record of historical events, and everyone has sinned.
In Genesis 3, we see that both Adam and Eve give into the temptation offered by the devil and rebel against God.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened... (Genesis 3:6-7a, NIV)
And that sinfulness just continues, so much so that Adam & Eve's son kills his own brother in an act of jealously. And then God decides to destroy most of the earth because of how sinful humanity has become:
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become... so the LORD said "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth - men and animals, an creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air - for I am grieved that I have made them. (Genesis 6:5,7, NIV)
Although God saved only Noah and his family, it doesn't take all that long for humans to lapse back into sin. The Tower of Babel is built, another example of man's rebellion against God, he takes action against it, and the sin just continues. But in the midst of these dismal, violent events there is a glimmer of hope.
Hope amidst destruction
First of all - God saves Noah and his family. This is definitely the best part of that story. He didn't have to, but he chose to. So the God of wrath and judgment is also a God of love, even though his people have abandoned him.
Secondly, and most importantly, look at the prophesy that God makes back in Genesis 3. There's some hope that something will be done about sin in due course.
So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers: he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15)
These words are not just about people stepping on snakes. It's actually about Jesus. He is the offspring of Eve who will defeat the devil and take all of humanity's sin upon his perfect self. The devil does strike his heel - he suffers and dies. But because he is God, he rises again!
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)
All our modern stories, as I'm sure you know, have a complication and a resolution. Perhaps the reason why we write our stories like that is because we're all in one true story with a serious complication, but a wonderful resolution.
In Genesis, we see the complication - humanity has sinned, and continues to sin. But it's in Christ that we see the resolution - that he has died for us so that when he returns in glory and power we can live in paradise with our God.
The end of the story
So should we read these bible stories to kids? Yes!
But we need to make sure we do it in an age-appropriate way. There are many kids' Bibles out there which are suitable for young children and have language they can easily understand (as well as often having some very cool pictures!).
It's very important that we all grow up knowing that we don't live in a perfect world, and that we all sin. But as I did, we can remind kids we know (and ourselves) that just like Noah and his family, we have been saved by Jesus so we can go be with him. We can truly live "happily ever after."