There is a possible risk that comes with learning Bible stories when we are young, which few parents have considered. It is difficult to foresee the effects this has on children when they are young, but as they age it can become clearer.
So many of the stories that we teach in Sunday School come with very simple explanations – explanations that fit our age at the time. But these simple explanations can then become locked in our heads permanently, and only later does it show that they can inhibit our understanding of the more complex lessons that God is teaching through that story.
In a way, we can become immunized to the great truths of how God works, and our growth as Christians can become stunted.
One such example of this can be found in the story of Jonah. It is one of the first stories that we learn in Sunday School. It is exciting and involves animals, a rescue, and a clear moral at its ending. It is very much like a fable, or a Disney story, where the hero goes through some stressful situation, but it is all resolved by the end, and the hero comes away wiser.
In Sunday School, the lesson is often about obedience and how things go wrong for us when we don’t obey God. This is one of the important lessons of Jonah, that bad things can happen to us when we are disobedient. As true and important as that lesson is, we often can miss out on other, sometimes even more important elements of the story, than what is obvious on the surface. As in many Bible stories there are levels that you learn the deeper you go into it. Unfortunately, many young people growing up in the Church never learn these lessons because when the story comes up later in life, their brain says, “I know what this is all about,” and it shuts down any further thinking.
I believe this is a significant reason why so many young Christians leave the Church when they leave home and become independent. Most of us grew up with fairy tales of some sort, and as we age, we intuitively know they are oversimplified, so we throw them off as a vestige of childhood. When we are presented with Bible stories in a similar way, it becomes a natural thing to leave them behind too.
The truth is that many of the stories in the Bible are not as cut and dry as we have made them out to be in our Sunday School lessons. Most of these stories have many nuances that should leave us questioning how God works, much more than most Christians ever do. God reveals Himself much like an onion, and in many of these stories, it is only those who truly seek that find His true nature. In the case of these overly simplified stories, God’s nature is often misrepresented.
The real story of Jonah has many lessons in it. One of the ones that has struck me recently as I have reread it is that God does not allow humans to be His co-judges. He stands alone as the Judge, and He will not accept those who think they are wise enough – and “just enough”- to stand in for Him in judgement of others. Those that try to can become “enemies” of God without even realizing it.
It is a common problem for those who follow the Christian faith for any length of time. They think they know God enough to understand how He works and therefore feel capable of being a fair judge.
It is something Jonah tried, and God had to slap him down hard for his arrogance. The wise will take heed and learn from his example – no matter their age.