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Children and the Bible

Each week most of us, as we work with our children's groups, use a Bible story. As Christians we believe this is our special book, and its stories can help us learn more about God, more about ourselves and more about what we are meant to do with our lives. But we must be honest, it's not an easy book! It raises as many questions as it answers and Christians have had different attitudes towards the Bible, depending on their tradition and the teaching they have received.

What sort of book are we talking about and how do we want the children to fall in love with its stories without them ending up being surprised and perhaps disappointed by some of the things they find there, particularly in its Old Testament pages?

Maybe the following thoughts can help you and your team reflect on how you use the Bible with children and what you hope they will take away with them from your sessions, so that they will go on as adults to use this book wisely on their spiritual journey.

A key verse for us as Christians comes in Paul's letter to his young apprentice apostle Timothy. Unlike Sir Alan Sugar, Paul doesn't just want Timothy 'fired' but instead 'fired up' by a love for the scriptures, and so he writes:

'Everything in the Scriptures is God's word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God's servants to do all kinds of good deeds' (2 Timothy 3:16-17, CEV).

Or, to quote perhaps a more familiar version for some of us: 'All scripture is inspired by God' (v. 16, RSV). But have you ever paused to think through what being 'inspired by God' means and what we want our children to understand by this all-important word?

Does it mean that every word is true?

Does it mean that every story is inspiring?

Does it mean that God sanctions all that is written in the Bible?

Does it mean that God is happy with everything that is said and done 'in his name'?

We know that God's love is such that it is not out to 'take us over' and in some way supplant our individuality; rather, God works to make us more fully the people - the very best people - we can be, with all our gloriously different personalities. In this way together we might just begin to reflect the unfathomable richness that is 'the likeness of God'. Jesus tells us, 'I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest' John 10:10 (CEV).

So this must also be true of the many writers of the story of the Bible. They weren't taken over to become robot secretaries; every word wasn't dictated to them; but rather, their own personalities, family backgrounds, perspectives and idiosyncrasies are also there as they express to the best of their abilities God's story as they saw it and God's words as they heard them. And by God's Holy Spirit they wrote far more than they knew they were writing, while still remaining themselves.

So when we read the stories in the Old Testament with our children, we need to recognise how the characters of the writers have an influence on what was written. These writers were fallible human beings, as they wrote down what happened to themselves, their families and their nation. They were limited human beings, as they tried to make sense of what God was doing, what God was like and what God was saying to them in their generation.

So it is no surprise to find that they are often influenced by their culture, by tribalism, nationalism and even paganism. Their view of God was not complete. But remarkably, although trapped within their own time in history and their own particular mindset, they were again and again gifted to see greater truths than they could have imagined on their own.

Their history and geography meant that they often wrote about a God who was exclusively 'on their side'; a God who delighted in the destruction of their enemies; a God whose nature they described with the military and triumphalistic metaphors of their day. But they were nevertheless inspired because, mixed in with this, there is something more: a movement towards a truer picture of God; a God of infinite mercy and a God who forgives his enemies; a God who is for the whole world and who is not just tribal; a God who is wonderfully inclusive, not merely nationalistic.

The Bible's stories are recorded by writers, who, like you and me, are growing up into the knowledge of God. We are joining them on a journey to discover more of who God is, who we are and what we may become. This is what makes this precious story inspired. It inspires us to search for the truth of God and our own true self, fulfilled in God. The inspiration of scripture often lies in between the words of the story, drawing us ever onward into the likeness of Christ, who is the true direction and fulfilment of all scripture.

So, what does it mean that all scripture is inspired by God? For me, it means:

This is inspiring! The story of the Bible is inspired by God and as such is a means of grace to help us become more like Jesus as we open its pages and our lives to its message. And this is also what I long that the children I work with might discover about our special book, The Bible.