Once a week I head to a local primary school to teach Religious Instruction to a lively group of grade three students. I’m consistently stunned by the inquiry and insight of these investigative young minds; the depths of their understanding have proven profound. Week by week, it has become increasingly clear to me that we have a problem; I have been part of it.
If you grew up in Sunday School in the age of friendship bracelets and pony beads, you’re probably already familiar with the “Gospel Bracelet”; an iteration of colourful beads representing the fall of man from a perfect creation, and the necessary sacrifice of Jesus Christ for salvation. As a child, the Gospel Bracelet was the perfect tool for school yard evangelistic mission, tying up the truth in a tween aesthetic I was certain my classmates would love. So, when it came time to teach my classes of equally colourful children about the effects sin and the necessity of atonement, there seemed no better illustration.
Together we threaded our coloured beads onto elastic, the first was Creation, green. As I shared the biblical account of Genesis, a vibrant debate was sparked in the classroom. There were some children defending the literal six days, others preferencing a metaphorical six days, and still some who remarked:
“I cannot believe God created the Universe; I believe in science”.
Whether you believe in a literal or figurative Genesis is not the point; the fact that there are children who are growing up with the understanding that belief in God is akin to throwing out logic and reason; that is a real concern. This eight-year-old had already concluded an incongruity between Christianity and Science without fully understanding either; a bias that is epidemic amongst young adults today and now affecting the very youngest minds. This supposed “incompatibility” is just another iteration of faith in the Unknown God; at the limits of scientific inquiry, we find necessary assumption and faith.
“For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things.”
(Acts chapter 17, verses 23-25)
Colour after colour, they had their theories and interpretations, until finally we came to the last colour; Gold. The kingdom of God. This is the moment that struck me; as one boy raised his hand with comment,
“I don’t think gold is a good colour.”
We all have our tastes and preferences, but his statement was not a matter of preference, but discernment. He went on,
“Gold is the reason humans do so many evil things. Humans are the most dangerous creatures on earth- we destroy other animals, we destroy the environment, and we kill and hurt each other- and most of the time, we do it for Gold.”
Never have I heard a more poignant exposition of the wickedness of the human heart than this young boy gave.
“I just don’t understand how a good God could create a world where there is so much suffering.”
And herein lies our problem. While we are teaching cute the cute and colourful storybook adaptations of the biblical narrative, these children are wrestling with the profound effect of the sinful condition, all the while being bombarded with the arrogance of an aggressively atheist culture that proclaims Christianity as a fool’s respite from reality. They are learning to relate to a God that is more akin to a benevolent fairy in an animated Disney feature, rather than the fortress in the midst of their very real battles. In our discussion, this boy had a revelation of our need for a saviour. When he considered the evil that pervades our world, he could only conclude that it was the fault of the Creator at all; it was His creations that broke the world.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
(Matthew chapter 19, verse14)
There are children who have grown up in church believing wholeheartedly that the Kingdom of Heaven is a magical land full of their favourite foods, where they’ll finally be united with deceased pets; who will sing songs based on the Nicene Creed, yet have no concept of resurrection. We have failed them. As parents, teachers, ambassadors of Christ, we have built these children a jolly tugboat and expect them to weather the storm; when we could have been built a mighty ark. Keep the illustrations, but don’t condescend the gospel of truth; humanity is broken beyond human repair, and children know it as well as anyone. They are asking the burning questions, and as they grow into adulthood, they will need to know how to defend the answers.
Laura Wardrop has undertaken further study in the areas of Linguistics, Art, and Ministry. She currently works a graphic artist and painter, and takes a keen interest in exploring all areas of human creativity as a reflection of God’s character. She lives with her husband Stephen and two children in Brisbane.