How to Teach Difficult Bible Stories to Your Kids

How to Teach Difficult Bible Stories to Your Kids

How to Teach Difficult Bible Stories to Your Kids

“Mom, why would God do that? Why would he tell a dad to hurt his little boy?” We had just finished reading a chapter titled “The Gift” in the Jesus Storybook Bible and my five-year old’s eyes had grown wide as the illustrated pages showed Abraham tying his son Isaac atop an altar of stones and sticks. I locked my eyes with his, I understood the bewildered look that accompanied his question. This portion of the Bible wasn’t easy for me to figure out either.

“Mom, why would God do that? Why would he tell a dad to hurt his little boy?” We had just finished reading a chapter titled “The Gift” in the Jesus Storybook Bible and my five-year old’s eyes had grown wide as the illustrated pages showed Abraham tying his son Isaac atop an altar of stones and sticks. I locked my eyes with his, I understood the bewildered look that accompanied his question. This portion of the Bible wasn’t easy for me to figure out either.

I couldn’t fathom marching the boy in front of me up a mountain knowing that once we reached the top, I would need to give his very life in obedience to God. It only becomes more complicated when you consider that God gave Abraham Isaac as a son through an incredible miracle and also promised that there would be an everlasting covenant between himself and Isaac. All those promises and then a request for Abraham to kill the promised son? Really, who could comprehend that?

It Gets Tricky

I want to teach my children that the Bible is undeniably true and that every verse from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 has been breathed by God and recorded for their benefit. But it gets tricky when we encounter stories like Abraham’s faith test in Genesis 21, the God-allowed loss that Job lived in the book of Job and the commands God gave to Joshua and the Israelites to devote all of Jericho to destruction by the sword which included “men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21).

The Bible is hard sometimes. So, how do you talk to your children about the weird, the hard, the tragic and the confusing parts of the Bible? Here are 5 tips that you can use with children of any age, from preschool to high school.

1. Don’t omit the troublesome parts of the Bible while your children are young

If you do choose to brush past the hard to read passages without processing them with your children, you’re setting them up for a crisis of faith as they grow into adulthood. Those passages won’t disappear from the Bible or your child’s questioning mind just because you sidestep them, instead they will become infinitely more troublesome to your children as they grow.

If your child’s faith has been built on a rose-colored translation of Scripture, how will they interpret their life when it’s playing out in shattered shades of black and blue? They need to see the suffering, the angst, the justice of God to help make sense of the hardship, peril and evil in the world.

The Bible isn’t just meant to encourage you. It’s sometimes sweet as honey and sometimes bitter as medicine and we need it all. Romans 3:23 is bitter, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What a hard truth to speak over your child, “my dear, you’re sick from the inside-out with sin and you’ve fallen short and have no relationship with God.” But without this acrid truth, we wouldn’t be able to see the abounding sweetness of the next verse, “and are justified by his grace, as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” 

Don’t leave out the hard parts of Scripture. We need both, the bitter and the sweet, to develop a full, mature faith that can stand firm for all our lives.

2. Use every bit of wisdom and discernment you have. 

In our quest to teach our children the complete picture of Scripture, it’s necessary to proceed with good judgment. There are parts of the Bible that aren’t age-appropriate for my toddlers just yet. Avoiding those parts for now is good wisdom, but as they grow, the day will come when it’s no longer best to not talk about it

You wouldn’t take a newborn out to build a snowman in the depth of winter—there is just no benefit to it. In fact, there may even be harm in it. But by the time they’ve grown into an able-bodied elementary student, playing in the snow has little harm and keeping them locked away from the winter wonderland outside is no longer necessary.

Here are a couple of things to consider if you’re wondering if your kids are ready to talk about the hard stuff:

  • Does your child have the emotional and cognitive maturity to think through the text? Will they be able to ask questions and come to conclusions? Or will it overwhelm them and leave them unable to process the information they received?
  • Is your child already encountering similar difficult themes in conversations with their peers, books they’re reading or shows they’re watching? If so, is it time to give them a biblical perspective?
  • Is your child asking questions about difficult things they experience or see other people experiencing in life? Could you bring understanding to this topic by talking through a passage with the same theme in Scripture? (e.g. Questions about where God is in human suffering and the story of Job.)


3. Welcome and encourage all of their questions and diligently seek answers. 

When my son asked me why God would ask Abraham to hurt his son, I knew I had to answer. Thankfully, I had done quite a bit of study on that passage previously because it was troubling to me, especially after I became a parent.

“Well, buddy,” I carefully began, “God never wanted Abraham to hurt his son. He wanted to see if Abraham trusted him with the person he loved most, his little boy. In that moment, Abraham was trusting God wholly and completely to take care of his son’s life.”

“That’s what life with God is like. He wants our whole heart. He wants to know that we love him and will obey him even when it’s really hard. God does ask hard things of us, but just like he provided the ram so Abraham didn’t hurt his son, God will provide for us, too, when there are times he asks us to give us things that are really hard to give.”

But there have also been times that I haven’t had the answers and I’ve said a simple, “I don’t know but that’s a good question and I’ll get back to you on it.” And it’s up to me to actually do that. It’s up to me to consult commentaries, study bibles, mature Christians and pastors until I get the answer.

Build a foundation of faith for your child that teaches them that God can handle their questions. Help them see that sometimes it takes diligent work to understand Scripture, but life-lighting truth is always worth the work. 

4. Some Scripture is a mystery still. 

There are a few problem places in Scripture for which there is no answer. One that consistently plagues me is found in John 8, verses 6 and 8. In this chapter, the Pharisees have brought a woman to Jesus that was caught in the act of adultery. They want to know what Jesus would have them do with such a sinner.

Jesus’ response? He bent down and wrote in the dust. Then he said, “Let him who is without sin be the first one to throw a stone at her,” and proceeded to bend down and write again. What did he write? There are many speculations, but no one truly knows.

Why is what he wrote a secret? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the world to know the words he used to defend this woman? I’ll never understand, I’ll always wonder. There is certainly mystery in Scripture. If you’ve exhausted all options and have come to no conclusion, you may have to agree to proceed by faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says Hebrews 11:1. In moments when you cannot help your children see clearly through the mystery of Scripture, lead them forward in faith.

5. You’re not on your own in this.

Unlike every other book in the world, the Bible wasn’t merely written by human hands, it was “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, it’s not just words on a page. It is filled with the living breath of a divine God and because of that, its’ words seep into the heart of your child before you even begin to explain it to them. When you delve into understanding difficult passages with your kids, you’re working alongside the word itself.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s word lives! It is alive and working in the lives of your children. Even if they are doubtful and questioning and discouraged by some of the things they read, God is breathing discernment into them.

You are not walking the path of teaching difficult Bible stories to your kids alone. There is a supernatural component to your conversations that you may not be able to see, but it’s undoubtedly there.

Equipped for Every Good Work

There are many difficult Bible stories, but even the ones that we’d like to bypass have immense value. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 

Walk with your child through their questions, help them find answers or stand on faith when clarity can’t be found. Their spiritual maturity, their completeness in Christ and the good work that they need to be equipped to carry out depend on it!

Shelby Turner is a stay-at-home-mom, speaker and writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She is all about helping women kick the pursuit of a picture-perfect life to the curb and inspiring them to live a purposeful life instead. She founded The Gathering, a bold, no fluff monthly event that connects women with God in a real way. She’d love for you to follow along with her on Instagram at @shelbyraeturner or connect with her on her website www.shelbyraeturner.com.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images

Shelby Turner is a speaker and writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She is all about helping women kick the pursuit of a picture-perfect life to the curb and inspiring them to live a purposeful life instead. She founded The Gathering, a bold, no fluff monthly event that connects women with God in a real way. She’d love for you to follow along with her on Instagram at @shelbyraeturner or connect with her on her website www.shelbyraeturner.com.

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