“Dad, tell us what happened when you got married.”
“Mom, can you tell me how I was born?”
Have you noticed that kids want to know not merely that something happened, but how it happened? They love to hear accounts of events that for them are in the distant past, and of which they have little or no memory, but that they know are fundamental to who they are.
And so, I do not simply tell them, “Your mom and I married on August 20, 2005.” No, I tell them the details of the church, the guests, the dress, the vows, the bit where I cried, and so on.
My wife does not simply tell them, “You were born on this date, in that hospital, and you weighed this much.” No, she tells them what she was doing when the contractions started; when we went to the hospital; how one of them had gathered quite an audience of medics by the time they decided to put in their appearance, and how the other had a Christian midwife who prayed with us; when their grandparents visited; and so on.
In other words, we tell them truth wrapped in story. That’s often the best way to enjoy a truth. True stories bring true propositions to life, lodge them in our hearts, and engage our affections as well as our intellects. They give us room to think, to imagine, to feel. Which is why truth wrapped in story is how God communicates with us.
Dad, How Do We Know Who’s Right?
We want our children, more than anything — more than they can recount the details of their parents’ wedding day or the day of their birth — to know Jesus. We want them to know he is supreme over all things, more worthy of their love than any other person, more deserving of their life than any other cause. We want them to trust him more than they trust us, and to be more in awe of him than we are.
We want them to be excited, not terrified, at the prospect of living in multicultural, post-Christian cities such as ours, which present them with a vast array of options when it comes to whom to worship. Just as Paul was in Athens (Acts 17:16), we want them to be both horrified that our cities are full of idols, and hungry to tell those who worship idols about the God who made them and can save them. We want them to see our cities not as threats to their faith but as fields for their outreach.
We want all that — and then one of my kids comes home when he’s 5 and tells me he’s had a conversation on the playground at his school with some friends, some of whom don’t think there is a God, others of whom insist that there are many, and none of whom thinks Jesus is Lord.
“Dad, how do we know who’s right? How do we know our God is the real God?”
And I panic. My mind reaches for a set of stark propositions: “Jesus is Lord.” “Jesus said he is the Son of God, and the only way to the Father.” “Jesus is the one who died for sin, and there is no other way to be saved.” I want my son to know the right answer. To stand on the playground next time and announce the truth.
But hold on. Kids love stories. Stories bring propositions to life. And God’s word is full of them.
I could just communicate truth. But there’s a danger in doing so if that is all I do: their heads may know the right answers while their hearts do not love the truth. And if they do not love the truth, they will not stand up for it in the playground, and one day they will back away from it themselves.
So I pause. The “right answer” stops in my throat. And I tell my son truth wrapped in a story — a true story.
Two Mountains, One Hero
We go back to Elijah’s day, a time when Israel was completely confused about who God was, blinded by their idolatry and complacency, lied to by their king and queen, enticed by the gods of other nations. We meet Elijah, standing against the tide of syncretism, warning of God’s judgment, calling the people to repentance and meeting resistance or, perhaps worse, apathy. Then we go up Mount Carmel, and we stand and watch as the prophets of Baal perform their rituals to persuade Baal to set their altar on fire. We hear Elijah taunt them: perhaps Baal is on vacation or in the bathroom. We see Elijah pray, and then (and this rapidly becomes our favorite part) we see the fire fall from heaven. We see the real God demonstrate his awe-inspiring supremacy over all other objects of worship, there on that mountain, in history (1 Kings 18:20–40).
And then we climb down that mountain, skip across the centuries, and climb Mount Zion in Jesus’s day: a time when a man had revealed that he was the God who sent fire on Elijah’s mountain, and yet was met with confusion and then anger by the polytheistic Romans and the monotheistic Jews, neither of whom would make room for him in their religious outlooks, since the only room he was satisfied with was the throne of their hearts. We hear Jesus promise that he will be killed and then rise (Mark 10:32–34). We visit the side of Mount Zion, and we see an empty tomb (Mark 16:1–7). We see the real God once again demonstrate his awe-inspiring supremacy even over death, there on that mountain, in history.
And I ask my kids, “How does this help us know who the real God is? What does this show us about the God the Bible speaks of?” And I try to help them see that if, by faith, they choose “Team Jesus,” they stand in a long line of witnesses to the truth about Jesus. They themselves are part of the greatest story ever told. They get to write a chapter in the same story that Elijah is part of, and that Jesus is the author and hero of.
We Have the Best Stories
So, there’s my story about a story. And here’s my point.
There’s an understandable desire in us as Christian parents to protect our kids from the world. I feel it — and there’s wisdom in it. But we also need to equip our kids to live in that world — to live confident, positive, Christ-heralding lives. If they are to do that, then they need not only to know the truth, but to be excited about the truth — not only to know that Christ is supreme, but to love that he is supreme. They need to share with their friends not just bald statements of doctrine, but true stories that have gripped their hearts and then in turn grip the hearts of those friends and help them engage with the historical claims of the faith our kids hold.
And one way to foster that kind of faith in our kids is to give them truth wrapped in story — in history. When they are thinking about why Jesus died, we can tell them the story of the Passover (Exodus 12–14). When they face a hard time in life and wonder what God is up to, we can take them to the life of Joseph (Genesis 37–50). When they feel doubtful that they can make a difference for Christ, we can tell them about the witness of Naaman’s slave girl (2 Kings 5). When they ask us about sex, we can walk them through Genesis 2:18–25. And that’s before we even reach the Gospels!
Let’s not forget, Christians have the best stories because we’re part of the best and most glorious story. And we follow a Savior who told parables as often as he preached sermons, and who pointed people back to the true stories of the Old Testament history as often as he reminded them of the Old Testament law.
“Dad, how do we know our God is the real God?”
Well, son, come with me up Mount Carmel and Mount Zion. Let me tell you a story.