Can you remember The Three Little Pigs? What happens when the first two houses get blown down? The pigs get eaten, right? Not likely, they actually run to their older brother’s house and they all live happily ever after in the brick house at the end, or so I read.
Let’s try again… what about Little Red Riding Hood? Do you remember the bit when the grandmother escapes the wolf by hiding in a cupboard, or the bit when the wolf sees the woodcutter, runs away from the woodcutter, leaving little red unharmed, and never comes back? Me neither…
Okay, one last attempt… Jack and the Beanstalk. What does the giant shout? “Fee, Fi, Foo, Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman, be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”, am I right? Well, apparently, he now stops at “Englishman”…
Now for something more serious. Do you remember the bit in the Bible where Jesus is born, starts healing the sick and teaching, and then the book ends? No, me neither… I’m fairly sure there’s something else that should come between miracles and the end, at least something to do with a cross and an empty tomb?
Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that all of these rather strange accounts can be found on the shelves of my home – some in multiple editions. And that includes the children’s “Bible” that fails to reach the cross, let alone the resurrection. However, they all have something in common – and that is an assumption that children must not be confronted with death. But are they right? Should we remove death from the stories our children hear, and cut out the crucifixion from the Bible until they are older?
These questions came to mind today, following a conversation with one of my children on the way back from school. It ran something like this:
“Dad, look, a wedding car!”
“I’m not sure it is, it looks more like a funeral car” (spying the black car with dark rosettes)
“What’s a funeral dad?”
“What do we do when people die?”
“Well, that’s a funeral. Is a celebration normally happy, or sad?”
“So, why would we celebrate at a funeral, isn’t it sad if someone dies?”
“We know that they are going to heaven, we can celebrate”
“Are you sure, what if they have done bad things, are you sure they will go to heaven?”
“But it says in the Bible, that Jesus died for our sins” (good lad!)
We went on to talk about other related things, but it struck me later in the evening, reading the strange version of Little Red Riding Hood mentioned above, that my son’s understanding of the Gospel relies on his knowledge of death. But not only this… it is the same Gospel built upon death that has changed his understanding of death itself, and given him a reason for hope.
And I don’t think any age sensitivity should justify hiding that from anyone.
True, Jesus was brutally flogged and died on a bloody cross. True, it’s so horrific that when Mel Gibson made a film of it, the board gave it an 18 certificate. But it is also true that on that tree Christ died for our sins, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. And – knowing this – I believe that I’d be a bad father if I didn’t try my very best to teach that to my children.