A few years ago I wrote a post on teaching kids about God's holiness. It came to mind as I explored this topic of "what do we let kids read?" so I've dusted it off and tweaked it a bit, and voila. Here it is. :) As always, your comments are welcome!
One more thing many parents struggle with is perhaps the most frightening, and definitely the most important area of possible "restriction." I'm not talking about monsters, nor bad examples. I'm talking about the terrifying reality of God's pure holiness. Our kids, like us, know deep down just how sinful they are. Until God saves them, they automatically feel guilt when they disobey, steal, lie, or sin in other ways. Before my daughter was one, I saw it in her big blue eyes-- as she looked at me in the rear-view mirror immediately after pulling off her hairbow as she was instructed not to do. Mention "sin" in a preschool classroom and you immediately get blame-shifting; stories of how bad their brothers and sisters are... so Garden of Eden. Our kids know that they are guilty sinners.
When you start talking about God hating and punishing sin... that has the potential to cause huge fear in a child. Have you ever had to think about this? The plain ol' fact is that "holy God + sinful us" equals our doom! To some, this seems too harsh or frightening to teach to children. Being a preschool teacher and curriculum developer, it's something I DO think about... a lot. It's hard to know what kids can understand, what is beyond them but good to start teaching anyway, and what is unbalanced. The holiness of God, and how that interacts with us is one especially touchy issue in our culture these days. But, if it's in the Bible and if it's necessary to salvation, it must not be kept from a child! Yes...it is frightening. But if we do not first know our own damnation, we will never be desperate for salvation. And it is only the self-admitted "sick" who get the Doctor. (Mark 2:17)
One word picture is that of a fire. God is holy and perfect, and anything less than holy and perfect is incinerated in His presence. I know many people immediately assume "hellfire and brimstone!" with this word picture, but that's not primarily what I mean. Feel free to tell me what you think of the following:
YHWH (Biblical name for God in Hebrew-- usually pronounced "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" in the King James Version) is a consuming fire, as Hebrews (12:29) emphasizes, and those who have sin inherent in their being will be consumed by that Glory, by that holiness. Adam & Eve were sent away from the Garden as punishment (Gen 3:22) and because now they faced the possibility of eternal corruption, but later we see that it was in mercy, too. Had they stayed in God's presence in their sinful state, they would have been utterly consumed. They passed on this inability to face God uncovered to all humans (Ex. 33:20). That's a crucial part of why why Moses had to function as a mediator for the people of Israel (Dt. 5:24-25), why the sacrificial system was instituted-- the sacrifices were literally "burnt up" so that the people didn't have to be.
Knowing all this about Who God Is really prepares us to marvel at the Incarnation; that God would put on flesh SO THAT we could see His glory without being consumed (2 Cor 4:6). I'm not advocating trying to push Hellish images on our little ones, but rather to give them the same word pictures that the Bible uses for God; including that of a fire. Only when we are in Jesus are we like the Burning Bush: on fire but not consumed. Certainly I don't want to over-emphasize any one attribute of God (His holiness) at the expense of another (for example, His mercy...which interestingly enough is the attribute He called out as He covered Moses with His Hand)... but we also want to give a real enough picture, according to Scripture, to instill in our children a "holy fear of God." Then calling Him "Abba," and knowing that HE made promises to US to make a way for us to be NEAR Him again is so much more marvelous and incredible!! That's the message I start teaching in week 3 with the promise God made to Eve (Gen. 3:16), and which we keep teaching until the last day of school, with the possibility of being like Jesus.
To make it a little more personal, it was fear of my own sinfulness in the face of God's holiness which first awakened my three-year-old soul to my need for a Mediator, and which finally led me to Christ. It wasn't until I was 9 or so and God opened my eyes more fully to my main sin of pride that I actually ran to Him for Grace, but all along that holy fear kept me from a lot of sin, and kept me knowing I needed Jesus.
The truth is that children CAN come to Jesus. Likely, they know deep down inside that they do need salvation; a sense of guilt seems quite natural, a merciful product of our Image-bearing. They still need to be taught, to be given the knowledge that will lead them to Jesus. We are commanded not to hinder them-- oh let us urge them to run!!
I hope this is good for thought-fodder... it has helped me better love my Savior!