If you grew up in church, you grew up knowing about Noah’s Ark. Or at least you thought you did. But maybe, like me, you remember the jarring moment when you read the words from Genesis 6 and 7 yourself.
God regretted that He had made human beings? And He said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made” (Genesis 7:4)?
What about the cute animals and the giraffes with their heads poking out of the ark?
How does that childhood image mesh with the truth of the Genesis account—that every living creature was killed except those on the ark?
And why did no one help me process this when I was younger, leaving me to try to understand it myself as a young adult?
The Bible Is Difficult
Let’s be honest: The Bible is difficult. And we need to teach kids the difficult parts of the Bible while they’re still kids.
What are the “difficult parts” of the Bible that we should teach kids? They’re the same ones we find difficult as adults.
In addition to God wiping out nearly all of creation in the flood, there’s “blameless and upright” Job losing everything, Abraham being instructed to sacrifice his own son, Joshua killing Canaanite babies, and Hosea being told to chase down his unfaithful wife and pay off her debts to other men—just to name a few.
The difficult parts of the Bible that we should teach kids are those that we adults struggle with ourselves. They’re also the parts that leave us asking, “Why did God do that?”
Here are five things to remember as we teach kids these difficult parts of the Bible.
1. Be Mindful of Age-Appropriateness
Younger children don’t need all the details.
Five-year-olds don’t need to know much more about Joshua’s conquest of Canaan than that the “walls came tumbling down.” God gave His people victory and lived up to His promise to provide them with a home.
But older elementary kids can begin to wrestle with what that looked like. For example, why did God require that some cities be fully “devoted to destruction”? Why, in some cities, did every living thing have to be killed? This is an entry point for talking about God’s holiness in a deeper way with older kids.
As kids age, we can adapt our teaching to include more details and deeper discussion.
2. We Want Kids to Have a Complete Picture of God
Those stories serve as good entry points to the Bible for young kids, but by the time they’re in fourth and fifth grade, we want kids to have a richer Bible experience—even if that means going to some hard places.
Why would God send a flood to destroy the inhabitants of the earth? Who were the Ninevites, and why was Jonah so resistant to tell them about the God of Israel? God is love, for sure, but God is also holy.
Most of the hard places in the Old Testament serve to tell us about God’s holiness and His desire for His people to be holy like Him.
So if we skip those, we skip an essential aspect of God’s character.
3. We’re Teaching Them That It’s OK to Ask Questions
In Genesis 32, we read about Jacob struggling with God. Any honest follower of Christ will say they have done the same.
As kids age, they need to learn that God is complex and that we can’t always understand His ways. By teaching kids these difficult parts of the Bible, they learn to wrestle with the tensions in the Bible, and as they wrestle, they have the opportunity to trust God more.
Therefore, questions aren’t bad. Job asked a lot of them! In fact, the Bible is full of faithful people who asked questions, and our kids should learn that that’s okay.
A wrestling faith is a growing faith, and we want our kids to grow.
4. It’s Our Job to Prepare Kids for What’s Ahead
Cynics and atheists don’t use the easy parts of the Bible in their attacks against faith. Instead, they go to the hard parts: Why would God authorize murder? Why would a good, powerful God allow His own son to be tortured and killed?
These are the questions that the Sunday-school kids of today will face tomorrow.
So we want them to hear these questions for the first time from us, their trusted ministry leaders. We’re not going to have all the answers, but we can show them that we’re not afraid of the questions—and neither is God.
In addition, we can teach them to go to hard places, to understand the context and the bigger picture of what God was doing, and to help them prayerfully wrestle through their questions.
If we don’t want our young people to be slapped in the face as college freshmen, we’ve got to do the work of preparing and equipping them now with a robust faith that can stand up to hard questions.
5. If We’re Going to Teach Kids the Difficult Parts of the Bible, We Have to Be Willing to Go There Ourselves
Before we can help anyone else wade into the deeper waters of the Bible, we have to be confident in our ability to swim there ourselves.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to have all the answers, but that you’re engaging with God’s Word at a deep level—studying it, wrestling with it, praying through it, and seeking out the biblical wisdom of pastors, teachers, and trusted friends.
Don’t shy away from the hard parts in your own study of Scripture. And be willing to ask your own hard questions, and model for the kids you lead how to do this with reverence and humility.
Truth be told, most of us charged with teaching Genesis 6 and 7 would rather focus on the ark’s animals than the consequences of a world “corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence” (Genesis 6:11).
But as we teach kids the difficult parts of the Bible, in age-appropriate ways, we’re preparing them for the faith challenges of the future and rooting them in a deeper understanding of God and all His ways.