Explaining Genesis to our children

I haven’t yet had the talk RJS asks about with my inquisitive, but trusting, science nerd second-grader, but I think she’s become aware of the science/creationism conflict, particularly as regards the age of the earth. She reads all secular books about science and we talk about science as though there were no such thing as creationism, but she is taught an adamant and somewhat polemical version of YEC at church. It won’t be long before I’ll have to address these issues, but I’ve been preparing for it for years now and don’t dread it anymore. Here is how I’ve imagined it going down.

Well, the ancient Israelites didn’t really know how the world came about. They weren’t scientists and didn’t try very hard to be; they were more interested in how to live life obediently to God. This was a good thing for them, and something we can learn from them nowadays.

So more than talking about how the world began, they wanted to understand why the world began. They created stories very much like other people in ancient times about the beginning of the world, like the Greek and Norse myths we read together.* These stories about the beginning of the world didn’t actually happen that way, but they helped them understand that it was our God who created the world and all that’s in it, not those cruel, weak, and often wicked gods that other people worshipped. It taught them that God is in control of the world and the world isn’t in control of God. The Garden of Eden story explained that things go wrong in life because people do things that are wrong, that we will be happy and enjoy fellowship with God if we follow His guidance, and that our lives will be sad if we rely too much on whatever we think is right or wrong.

*In my opinion, this is an important prior step.

I’m not making any claims that this will work universally, but it will no doubt assuage some of the confusion among most young children. If the child is very much younger and asks, “Is this story true?” the answer would have to be, “It teaches us something true,” followed by a simplified version of what I said before; this wouldn’t answer their question, but rather begin to open their minds to the inadequacy of the question as framed.

Another conversation, or a later stage of the one above, will include a subtle acknowledgement that the Israelites weren’t always right, without implying that we should have expected them to be. If I don’t ever make unwarranted claims about the Bible’s nature and authority – or for the authority of any source of information, for that matter – this won’t ever cause the conflict it did for those of us who were taught inerrancy and only later came to find out differently. Disappointment resulting from false expectations and a haughty disposition toward the virtue of doubt have much more potential to displace one’s faith than a conscious recognition of the epistemological limits of any human endeavor, from science to history to theology.

But for some kids, like my daughter, my words above will probably be enough for now.

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