Authors of a Sunday school curriculum explained recently why they were omitting the Crucifixion and Resurrection from their preschool curriculum. They made this choice for two reasons: first, that the crucifixion is too violent for preschoolers, and second, preschoolers are unable to grasp what it means to die and be raised again.
Apart from the emotional shock of hearing that someone took out the crucifixion and resurrection from a curriculum, their actions and reasoning bear consideration. After all, I haven’t seated my seventeen-month-old child down to explain that Jesus died on a cross for her. I’m very protective about my children’s exposure to violence, and I’m nearly certain that the resurrection is beyond the comprehension of my three year old.
Examine the Objections
Let’s examine both objections. First, some suggest that the crucifixion is too violent for preschoolers. In response, we might be tempted to compare the crucifixion story with the violent cartoons and programs children watch on television. We might observe that a good many children are sadly aware of violence beyond their ability to handle, or rather, that children long ago were exposed far more often to death than children in the United States today. These are not the best places to begin a rebuttal. In the first place, anecdotal evidence doesn’t answer the question of whether the resurrection story is inappropriately violent for preschoolers, and in the second, one must understand that arguing that the resurrection is too violent presupposes that children understand the story, something argued against in this document not even two sentences later. To argue both positions is logically difficult to reconcile.
Arguing that children should be taught only what they are capable of understanding is a separate question that has further implications than simply whether to teach the crucifixion to preschoolers. The ramifications of this position are significant, and should not be taken lightly.
Anecdotes Are Poor Support
Instead of presenting personal anecdotes or comparisons, consider first the objection to violence. It is not a spurious concern, because research has clearly demonstrated a causal relationship between violence and ill-effects on young children. Still, we must ask whether the evidence can be applied to the biblical story of the cross. In these studies, what kind of violence is being measured? Overwhelmingly, researchers study either real-life violence (such as a study measuring social well-being of children is Kosovo), or television violence. Quite simply, the very real damage of real-life violence and realistic violence on television cannot be compared with validity to the story of the cross. Consider the difference between a statement: Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal, and a theoretical twenty-minute multimedia presentation of the same fact. The statement has a purpose; a multimedia movie would doubtless be gratuitous.
God Condones Some Violence
Can we object to violence itself on biblical grounds? Actually, no. There is a good deal of violence in the Bible, much of it condoned or sanctioned by God Himself. We know that the Bible is given to us for our instruction, even the violent parts, and that there is a purpose in their presence. When something objectionable (like violence) is presented, we recognize that it should have a purpose; it will not be gratuitous.
We need wisdom and discernment to understand the purpose for giving to or withholding information from our children. I happen to believe that the cross is appropriate fare for preschoolers, but in order to be intellectually honest, I must acknowledge that I do in fact censor portions of the Bible. To understand why we should not omit the cross, we must understand why we select what portions of the Bible to share.
Most Parents Omit Portions of Scripture To Some Degree
Have you ever heard the statement “It’s true, and I have to say what is true”? We readily see the fallacy in this thinking. Actually, not all truths are useful or appropriate to share with our children. I haven’t talked about God’s opinion of homosexuality with my four-year-old son, for example. Nor have I detailed the underlying meaning of the metaphors found in Song of Solomon with my three year old. Is there a difference between these examples, and Christ’s torture on the cross? The answer is found when we consider the purpose of teaching Scripture.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. II Tim 3:16-17
Given the enormous significance of the cross, it is hard to understand why even simply teaching a child that Jesus died on the cross is objectionable.
The Cross Can Be Profitable for Young Children
Moreover, appropriate presentation of the violence can actually help a child to better understand the significance of the event. Jesus’ death was not the same as a beloved grandfather peacefully entering eternity during the night. When we truly understand that Jesus suffered in our place, when the violence is placed in the right context, we are filled with greater sensitivity and comprehension of the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Your comments and critique are always welcome, as they usually help me to think more clearly.
In my next post, we’ll discuss whether we should deliberately give instruction beyond our children’s ability to understand it.