Fortunately for children’s picture Bibles, the garden of Eden had many well-positioned bushes. Adam and Eve may have felt no shame at their nakedness before the fall, but often we are not quite so comfortable. Shame, embarrassment and some good old British prudishness combine to make us feel quite relieved when we read that our first parents sewed the fig leaves together, and even more so when the Lord clothed them in animal skins. This is because we live in a fallen world.
Americans talk about life ‘post-9/11’, but every nation lives in a ‘post-Genesis chapter 3’ world. The naked shame thing is about more than sex, but the simple fact is that since then we have all been weird about sex.
But what if we’re children’s workers who are committed to scripture beyond picture Bibles? (That’s not a slight on picture Bibles, by the way.) How do we deal with Lot’s neighbours and his daughters, or Onan, Judah and Tamar, or Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? And all this before we’ve even finished Genesis! Should we just avoid these parts of the Bible? Should we wait until our children graduate into youth ministry to talk about the porn problem? Here are three reasons why we don’t need to put it off.
It’s not a problem for kids
Firstly, children don’t have the same hang-ups about sex that we do. They are much more matter of fact. Young children may be sinful, but they’re not so obviously embarrassed by their own bodies. When it comes to sex, children don’t need euphemisms because they’re not emotionally or physically involved in it yet. It’s good to get theory in place before anyone starts talking about practice.
Childhood is a time – probably the only time – when we can talk about penises, vaginas, sperm and ova without feeling desperately clinical or acutely embarrassed (I felt just as awkward writing those words as you did reading them). We may not want to use those exact words. ‘Seed’ and ‘eggs’ are useful for the contributions of male and female in baby-making, and there are several words children use for what’s in their underwear.
It’s a key part of God’s big plan
Secondly, sex in the Bible gives us a great opportunity to talk about the overall message of the Bible. We’re told that God’s design for sex is lifelong ‘one-flesh union’ between a husband and wife for the purpose of fruitful multiplication. We see Adam and Eve disobey God and witness the shame and suffering that follows, but in this same passage we’re told about a promised rescuer: a son of the woman. From then on when we come to sexual activity in the Bible it’s always worth asking why it was included.
We usually ignore genealogies in the Old Testament because they’re boring, but they could be considered as a list of men who had sex. People “begat” in ancient times in pretty much the same way we do today! The Old Testament is preparing us for the birth of the Saviour, the promised son. This is one of the major reasons why these genealogies are included. The great surprise is that when Christmas finally comes there is no sex involved at all! Amazingly, the Messiah is born to a virgin, but just before his birth we find a genealogy that includes all kinds of sexual sinners.
They’re going to get it from somewhere
Thirdly, these parts of the Bible provide another opportunity for us to support parents. The question of sex education is a live issue in schools (see page 20), but why can’t sex education also be part of church life? Why can’t the Church educate children about their bodies? Television channels do, social media does, friends and teachers will, so why not parents and children’s workers? The key role of children’s workers is to support parents in their God-given task of raising children. Helping them get God’s perspective on our bodies and how we use them is an important part of that.
So, what do we do with passages that talk about sexual activity? What’s the best way to handle the tricky bits about people having sex outside lifelong male and female marriage? We don’t have to make it our theme for holiday club, but this is likely to come up if we’re teaching through the Bible.
We shouldn’t treat these passages any differently from other parts of the Bible. If we want to understand them we need to know the context. How does this fit into the passages before and after it? Into the rest of that book of the Bible? Into the Bible as a whole? We’re also trying to draw out the meaning of the text as it has been written. Is this something God commanded or another example of sinful people deciding to do things their own way? What happens as a result of this passage? How does this lead us to Christ? As we have already seen, it may simply be a shady part of his family tree.
Think about Ruth. She was a Moabite. The Moabite line traces back to the incest between a drunken father, Lot, and his wine-pouring daughter (Genesis 19), yet Ruth is included in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. The story of Onan, Judah and Tamar also weaves in here.
Having studied the text, how do we explain it to the children who will be in our Bible studies? Because of their age they’re different from us, but they will also differ from one another. Some children may have heard much more sexualised language than others. Some children may have seen sexually explicit material. Some may even have experienced sexual abuse. Our hearts grieve for these children, and we’ll need to listen carefully and watch closely in order to be wise. We pray that these situations will be rare, but it is almost guaranteed that the children in our groups will know of home situations that don’t follow the pattern of lifelong male and female marriage union.
The Bible’s exclusive sexual ethic is strange in every culture, and we all steer away from it by nature, but the Bible also offers us Christ as Saviour and Lord. The sexual dysfunction we find in scripture can actually provide a strange comfort. These people are offered redemption and healing in Christ, and we are too. Sexual sin is not beyond redemption. This is a great hope to share, even with children.