My daughter had a theological discussion over lunch yesterday. She’s four. She came home and told me something about Mary (the Jesus’ mum Mary) which I know isn’t in the Bible. My knee-jerk response was something like, “Oh that’s not true, someone made that up.”
Thankfully, my four-year-old will believe pretty much whatever I tell her at the moment. As a parent, that’s a pretty nice feeling isn’t it? It makes us feel powerful – especially since parents of teenagers assure us it will not last forever. I guess that’s why you end up with lists being published of ‘Great lies to tell your kids.’ (I’ve never found that very amusing, myself.) But I think it’s true to say that in general with little children, the parents are the teachers and they take what we say as truth.
This isn’t all bad, but I can see two problems with it. Firstly, we’re not always right. So if Miriam thinks I am the source of all knowledge, and one day she finds out I made a mistake about something (e.g. ‘Which is taller, Big Ben or Nelson’s Column?’ which she recently asked me loudly on a crowded bus), then how can she trust the other things I’ve told her? Hopefully one error won’t unravel everything I’ve ever taught her, but surely it may cast some doubt.
The second problem is that it’s quite a lot of pressure, isn’t it? What if I don’t know much? Or what if I do know some things but I’m not gifted at communicating those things to small children? If being a good mum means teaching my kids about stuff, then if I’m no good at that, am I no good as a mum?
So, what to do? Well here’s what I did with Miriam yesterday. I went back to her a few minutes later after I’d thought about it (whilst putting pyjamas on someone and extracting the baby from somewhere), and said this:
‘We know that’s not true because it’s not in the Bible. So next time someone tells you something you didn’t know about God or Jesus, come and tell me and we’ll see if it’s in the Bible. Then we’ll know if it’s true.’
It’s almost the same response, but not quite. By pointing Miriam to the Bible, I’m showing her that the Bible is our authority (since God is our authority and he’s revealed himself to us in the Bible). The flip side of this is that I am not the ultimate authority, so if I get stuff wrong it’s OK because Miriam knows I’m only human. God, on the other hand, never gets it wrong and never lies – not even to kids.
When I was little I remember my mum used to say, ‘Ask your Dad’ a lot – usually when I’d asked her the third or fourth probing question about a topic, and she’d exhausted her knowledge. She didn’t know the answer, but she was confident my Dad would (especially if it was something about cars or prog rock). And isn’t it a relief to know that we too can divert questions to someone else? Especially when that someone is the Lord. So if you think you’re not the best teacher, so what? You know the best teacher ever – his name is Jesus.
On Sunday we were hearing in church that Jesus’ teaching amazed everyone, even the Teachers of the Law and other religious big-wigs. And we were encouraged to hear that even though some people are really clever and use long words, and even know lots of stuff about theology, they’re not always right. In Mark 12, Jesus put them to shame when they tried to catch him out with tricky questions. This is great news, especially when you don’t feel like you know much.
So isn’t it great that we can put our cards on the table with our kids and say, ‘I don’t know much, but let’s look at the Bible together and let Jesus teach us about our Father in heaven.’
The Bible has very little to say about Big Ben and Nelson’s Column, of course, but for those questions there’s always Google.