Recently a few people we're in our youth room and noticing the artwork that is taped to the closet doors. Its nothing extraordinary. Its a collection of collaborative art pieces our middle schoolers have done on each of the books of the Bible from Genesis - Ruth.
Our summer project was to begin going through the Bible chronologically (which is pretty easy up until you get to the book of Ruth incidentally) generally doing one book a week and sometimes splitting larger books into two weeks like the book of Genesis. Of those things these people were noticing was the violence illustrated in some of the books. Amidst illustrations like rainbows and hearts there were knives and blood, people crying over tombstones, etc. Naturally, without a lot of context, there were some questions and reactions.
"Did that really happen?"
"What do they (the middle schoolers) have to say about that?"
"I don't ever remember hearing about that."
What they were commenting on primarily were the pieces on the books of Joshua and Judges. Two works of the Bible that are extremely violent. Joshua is usually talked about in the context of when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down after a bunch of loud trumpet blasts. What's left out of the children's story (and apparently the adult version considering these were adults in this conversation) is that the Israelites go on to destroy everything in Jericho including the people, young and old. In today's world we call that a genocide. The only people spared are Rahab, who helped them in the conquest, and all who were in her household.
Needless to say, if Joshua is held up as a hero of the faith, someone who was notable to have one of only 66 books in the entire Bible written about him... well, that can create some serious misgivings about the religion that we represent and the Book that we uphold as authoritative in all things.
As for Judges? Well, it gets worse. As noted from our illustration
So why do we talk about these things in Sunday school?
It seems that we have a very passive aggressive relationship with our Holy Scripture. We talk a lot about the parts that are agreeable. We memorize them. We create posters of them. We even get them tattooed on our bodies.
But the disgusting parts? Let's just sweep that under the rug and say, "Different place, different time." Somehow I don't think that is going to satisfy the curious minds of young people who will eventually come across these stories and wonder, "How can i possibly justify this?!" "What sort of religion am I even a part of?!"
And that's really the point...
While our conversations are more in-depth the commentary on these two parts of the Bible comes down two basic interpretations:
- "God works in mysterious ways" - Sometimes humanity is so terrible that the only way that God can protect the people whom God made a covenant with is through violence. If the Jewish people had not fought they would have eventually faced the same fate.
- "Jesus is the Word" - John's Gospel begins with the claim that Jesus is the embodiment of God's words. Therefore we worship Jesus and not the Bible. All we read in the Bible is humanity's best attempt at understanding what God is doing or telling them in that context. Sometimes people get it wonderfully right. Sometimes we are worse than tragic. Therefore, there's no need to justify these parts of the Bible. In light of who Jesus is they are clearly on the wrong side of history. They're more of a warning to not fall into this trap again.
And that second point might be difficult for a church to talk about. What's infered here is that faith leaders sometimes make egregious mistakes in understanding God's will. And while there are institutional systems of accountability (and forgiveness) for those mistakes made, nothing can be more liberating to the individual, especially to the middle schooler who is emerging into adulthood that their own freedom of thought should never be underestimated.
We know our young people will grapple with difficult parts of the Bible throughout their faith journey. So, is it good to embrace a less dogmatic understanding of such a complex piece of art such as the Bible? We think so and what we do with the Bible as the sacred text of Christianity plays a major role in the faith development of our young people.
What they make of their faith journey will always supersede what others try to force them into believing.