Growing up as a Christian, for me, was fantastic. My faith is still going strong, and who I am today has been shaped by the things that I experienced and was taught as a child in church. I went to Sunday School every week, and at Sunday school I learnt Bible verses (most of which, I’m ashamed to say, I no longer remember quite so well!), I sang songs, did craft activities, and things like that. One thing that I also did was learning Bible stories. And it wasn’t just in Sunday school that I came across these stories; I came across them in books and children’s Bibles as well.
The story of creation, Noah, Jacob and his twelve sons, the plagues, the exile, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah, the parables of Jesus and many more events from the Bible entered my younger mind in the form of cartoon images, arts and crafts. I’m not alone in this. Anyone who’s had similar Sunday school experiences, whether or not they’re Christians now, and perhaps people who went to Christian schools (though I wouldn’t know about this first hand), will probably recognise most of these stories as well.
The problem with this is that for many of us, these stories stay as children’s stories. It probably doesn’t help that many of them are the more extraordinary events of the Bible anyway, but aside from that, something of the cartoon storybook lingers into teenage and adult years.
I don’t think this calls for a change in the way the stories are taught to kids – it’s important that kids learn these stories in a way that’s fun and accessible – I think what’s needed is for those of us who have grown up being taught them to be willing to revisit them in an open-minded way. I know first-hand that it’s easy to skim over stories such as Noah’s flood because I think I know them already, and, I guess, a part of me thinks that there’s something a bit childish in the stories themselves. The issue is that in doing this I’m missing out on big chunks of God’s word.
And here’s another thing. If we take the historicity of the Bible seriously, then these events are not simply fictional stories, they are real things, however amazing, that happened to real people. It might just be me, but I find that that realisation makes the Bible far more real to me. I’ll give you an example of that outside of these stories. I’ve just finished reading the book of Jeremiah, a prophetic book in the Old Testament all about the fall of Jerusalem and Israel’s eventual restoration. The books of prophecy can seem remote and hard to engage with, but I found that as I was reading Jeremiah, thanks in part to my study Bible, I had a sense of the real man who dictated those words. I found myself wondering if he was afraid, or if he understood what he was saying. How did he find the strength to serve God in that environment? Considerations like that brought the words alive even though they were prophesying things that happened centuries in my past.
And what about if we stop thinking about Daniel in the lion’s den as a nice story with a moral undercurrent, but as the incredible events of a real man’s life? Or what about Mary, not just a blue-covered figure in nativities, but a faithful, righteous teenager whose life was about to be turned upside down? These aren’t simply characters, they were people like you and me. When you start to think like that, what once were cartoons in a storybook become humans with experiences that you can learn from. The Bible comes alive as you see the lives that are recorded in its pages.
And most importantly of all, the life of Jesus is written on those pages. He was not a handsome white man with pristine white clothes and a tidy beard, he was a man who lived and walked among men and women. His miracles were not just nice stories, but acts of power that transformed the world of those around him. There is something immense in that realisation. And imagine the real people who came into contact with him. Imagine those who found the courage to believe in the man from Nazareth, believing against everything they had thought to be true that he was God incarnate. It’s pretty special.
I want to end this post with an encouragement to return to those stories that you learned as a child, or the stories that you think are extraordinary, or the stories that have been slaughtered in blockbuster films recently (you know what I’m talking about) and try seeing them not as stories, but the accounts of real people like you and me. You might just find that there’s more there than you thought.