Editing God: What Are We Really Teaching Our Children?

As I read to my children from the biblical account of God sending plagues to Egypt, I remembered — too late — that the last plague involved God killing the firstborn child in every family. How do I get out of this, I thought? Can I skip that part of the story? Will this upset my 5 and 3 year olds?

Then came the root of my fearful questioning: What will my children think of God?

I wanted to cover for God, to make Him more palatable to my children. I wanted my children to be introduced to my version of God: the cleaned up, Sunday-School-felt-board-version who’s nice all the time and maintains his cheesy smile while the kid-version of me steals an extra cookie.

But God wants us to introduce our children to Him through His Word, not picking and choosing verses in order to make a god in our own image. In fact the very thing I wasn’t sure about telling my children, the story of God striking “innocent” Egyptian children dead, God insists on children understanding at Passover: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses”(Exodus 12:26-27, ESV).

How do you know if you are making a God in your own image? Look at what you are teaching your children — and at what you are deliberately not teaching them about God.

I wanted to order up all the “Happy Jesus” stories: healing the sick, playing with children, and eating with Zaccheus. Hold the “Angry Jesus” in the temple making whips, please. But God doesn’t just love. God also hates: God hates sin, God hates evil, God hates lying. God deals very seriously with sin. If we don’t expose our children to all of Scripture, they will never be ripe for the Gospel because they will have a wrong view of God and of themselves. We will give them a one-dimensional god whom they will leave as soon as they leave our homes. Who would want to serve a flat god who has no depth or character or mystery?

Putting this into practice has created some interesting scenarios in our home. Once, when one of my children was obviously lying to me (but I had no proof and needed the confession), I told the child the story of Ananias and Sapphira, causing said child to be momentarily terrified that lightening was going to strike (the child even looked up at the sky, expecting it any second). Yes, I really did this. And when I’ve relayed this story to other moms, the looks I’ve gotten have ranged from disbelief to horror. It is important to note that when telling this story to my child, I quickly followed it with the beautiful news that for the Christian, Jesus has taken that punishment for us and we don’t need to fear God’s wrath. But unless my child grasps how strongly God feels about lying, and how that anger was directed at him/her until Jesus, my child will never understand the enormity of the burden Christ took on our behalf.

Without an understanding of sin and God’s wrath and punishment, we cannot have a true understanding of the Gospel. When your children ask why you are telling them these less-than-savory stories, tell them it is “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4: 24, ESV).

I trust that God is good and loving – and not bound by my rules and expectations. In Psalm 50:21, God charges His people, “You thought I was exactly like you.” When I too-carefully choose Bible passages for my children, I am robbing them of the chance to get to know a powerful and loving God who is not made in my image. When I allow them to experience all of Scripture, I give them all of God and pray that they will come to know Him in the fullness and beauty of who He truly is.