I am in the process of writing a new children’s church Bible study series for the kids in my church. It is called, “What Would You Do?” We are working chronologically through the biblical text using key stories–some well known, others less so–to illustrate choices which biblical people faced in their settings, and then applying them to today in ways with which they can identify.
Last week we watched Adam and Eve encounter the serpent in the Garden of Eden as portrayed in the form of a puppet show. All of the children wanted a chance to handle the puppets so we took turns and told the story several times. Adam and Eve were faced with a choice of unimaginable proportions. I wonder. Did they know the extent of the consequences for their choice? If not originally, then later? When I asked the children what Eve should do when the serpent tempted her to eat of the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they unanimously cried out, “Run away!” It is easy to make that judgement from the relative safety of several thousand years and a better understanding of the consequences of their choice. But surely we also would have been beguiled had we been in their situation. I don’t know about you, my kind readers, but I have an inkling of the deceitfulness of my own heart, the struggle I face to make good choices of a much smaller magnitude. Or are they smaller in magnitude?
This week we saw Cain and Abel (in puppet form) bring their sacrifices to God. Cain displeased God with his offering. Abel pleased God and thus experienced God’s favor. Cain then became angry to the point of bitterness. As God inquired about this, Cain hardened his heart and then began to plot against Abel, carrying out a plan to murder him. He plotted against his brother. Surely, Adam and Eve must have felt the weight of this in their hearts. When God looked for Abel he inquired again of Cain. Cain’s response rings through the ages to this day. We see it in governmental policies around the world, including the USA. We see it played out in homes, in communities, in churches, on the streets and in the public square. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is the inaugural moment of verbally expressed individualism. It smacks of arrogant rebellion. It was a public act of defiance against God and against another human being. Note its utter contradiction of what later would become known as the two greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
When I asked the kids today what Cain should do when he learned his sacrifice did not please God, they suggested that he should learn from this wrong choice. Perhaps he could have brought a better sacrifice at the next opportunity. Yet, as they soon learned, Cain spiraled into a series of disastrous choices. This question sparked a fascinating discussion between the kids. Why did Cain make this choice? Why did he not apologize and make things right? Why did Cain get so angry at his brother Abel and God? This then allowed us to make application here and now in our lives.
I reminded the children that I have seen a lot of kids come and go over the years. Some have grown up and have kids of their own. I know of at least one from my previous church who spent time in prison. Others also have made extremely bad choices. With all the love and compassion I could muster, I told them to be mindful of their choices now, because it sets the tone for their choices in the days to come when the choices will become much harder and more serious.
What I love about the Bible is that it does not pull punches. It is not a book of fairytales as some would have us believe. It tells it like it is. Life is portrayed as unvarnished with all its difficult contradictory problems. It is real. And the Bible shows us life as it really is. I find this comforting and helpful as I lead children and adults in the discovery process of finding out what God has to say to us in the biblical text.