God the bard in a bullet-point culture

Because I teach my children, and because my goal in teaching my children is more spiritual than intellectual, I think a lot about Bible curriculum.  This post, by the way, isn’t about Bible curriculum.  It’s about how God wants to teach us vs. how we want to learn.  And I think God’s way is really cool.

A few years ago I came across a curriculum that claimed it didn’t teach kids Bible stories.  No, the goal was teaching them the character of God, so it focused on God’s qualities without focusing on stories.  I admit, the intellectual snob in me thought that sounded like a good idea.  Quick, systematic, condense the Bible down to bullet points and feed it to my kids like a pill.  Practical application to the max.  You know what?  It didn’t work.  They never remembered what they were taught, and soon they stopped paying attention, and it was rather a failure.

Why the failure?  I think the curriculum writers forgot two things.  First, Bible  stories aren’t stories.  They’re history.  God is a real being who reached down in real time and real space to deal with real people in real nations.  Did he do it with over-the-top dramas?  Yes, he did–I wonder sometimes if he created the laws of physics just to knock them on their heads to show us his majesty (and maybe have a little fun).  He wants to touch our hearts, and the words grace and mercy and love and omnipotence and eternity have pretty much no meaning at all until you see them in action, and therefore they can’t lodge in the heart.  Frankly, God is too complex for bullet points.  We have to see him in action, over a long period of time, in a whole mess of situations.  Only then does the reality behind those huge concepts start to come into focus and mean something to our deepest hearts.

The history I learned in school didn’t include a lot of amazing things like rivers parting and men walking on water and the sun standing still.  I don’t know if Christians get embarrassed to tell the world they believe these things, or if they just don’t want to take the time to be awed and amazed by them.  A multitude of Bible study books exist that study a single topic or two.  I suspect many Christians today have Bible study overload while actually ignoring the Bible as a whole–a magnificent, epic, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, sometimes baffling whole.

A lot of my blogs are how I’m personally convicted and need to change.  This is one where I think God has gotten through.  We study the Bible with a timeline and maps.  It’s real history and real geography, and more than once I’ve sat with my youngest, especially, and talked about what it would be like to pop back in time to see some of it play out.  The events capture the imagination.  Jesus, especially, is a real man, not a nebulous model for behavior but a real person who lived here, and we all think it would be amazing to walk where he walked and see the sights he saw.

God put a lot of detail in the Bible.  I suspect he wanted us to read it, study it, immerse in it.  It’s a rich, lush, background on which he tells us who he is.  Epic, spanning many generations and many cultures, utilizing many characters.  And to try to remove that when we learn God’s character…  it just doesn’t make sense.  As it is, the tale sticks in our hearts and souls in a way a list with bullet points can never, ever do.

And the second reason the curriculum failed?  Well, this is one I really get excited about, and I’ll get to that next time…  Until then, I recommend you read something from the Bible you usually skip over, and keep doing that until you’ve seen it all.  Then do it again and again, because it’s alive and says something new each time to you do.

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One thought on “God the bard in a bullet-point culture

  1. I remember reading in my college art history book about the ancient city of Jericho. The secular author was explaining that they did not understand why all that remained of the fortified city was a room in a tower built into the wall surrounding the city. That was a moment for me when a switch flipped in my brain and the history of the Bible became real to me. I already believed it was real but that is when I really started to internalize it. When the history became real to me, who God is became more real to me as well. Imagine a God powerful enough to destroy the most fortified city of the time without an army or weapons but caring and gentle enough to spare the lives of a particular prostitute and her family who revered him. I just wish the authors of art history books could recognize this.

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