Teaching children hard things

Raising children is the most important and most difficult job in the world. Parents are
seeking to point their children to God; to curb their sinful natures; to prepare them to take their
place in a fallen world; and to equip them, so far as they can, for eternity. For some time now,
Western society has regarded children in a rather schizophrenic way. On the one hand, ‘helicopter’
parents hover over their youngsters lest they scratch their knees in the dirt, yet all the while,
television exposes them to the most inappropriate and damaging programmes from an early age.
Married at First Sight and The All New Monty ought to attract zero ratings among adults, and one
can only speculate as to how many children are subject to such kinds of debased entertainment.
Recently the Queensland Department of Education has raised objections to a number of
aspects of Scripture teaching in its schools, with one of the main ones being the delicate subject of
animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Children can be exposed to – indeed, groomed by – lessons
on homosexuality and transgenderism, but the Day of Atonement is apparently too bloody for
modern tastes.
Children have different temperaments and capacities, and the great apostle Paul wrote:
‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became
a man, I gave up childish ways’ (1 Cor.13:11). Not everything is appropriate to all age groups.
Parents need to exercise wisdom, but there is a need for children to be exposed to hard things – as

much as we like to protect them from anything even remotely traumatic. As the Israelites kept the
Passover each year – recalling the slaying of the Passover lamb, the ten plagues, and the crossing of
the Red Sea with the drowning of the Egyptian army – children were expected to ask in due time:
‘What do you mean by this service?’ (Ex.12:26) That was the God-given time to explain such things
to them. Psalm 78 tells of making known the glorious deeds of the Lord to generations to come, and
those glorious deeds include judgments and deliverances.
Should children attend funerals? Do children have any sense of death and eternity? Is
sorrow a necessary counterpart to joy in the world in which we live? When the Bonhoeffer family
lived near the university clinics in Breslau, Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabine, would lie awake at
night and try to imagine eternity. Eventually, this turned into a kind of game where the word was
used to clear the mind of all distractions. This was especially so when horse-drawn hearses
approached the cemetery which was not far from where they lived. Dietrich, who was hanged by
the Nazis in 1945, at the age of 39, came to regard ‘eternity’ as ‘an awesome word’. In this sense,
the child was father of the man. For what my testimony is worth, one of the very earliest
recollections that I have is of the death of my grandfather when I was aged three.
Young Timothy learnt the Scriptures from his youth up, from his grandmother Lois and his
mother Eunice, not from his Greek father (Acts 16:1-3; 2 Tim.1:5). God used this to make him wise
for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim.3:15). One might speculate as to when Timothy got
to read Judges 19, but children are able to have a concept of death and living forever. It is
unformed and ill-informed perhaps, but it is present.
Today we are so eager not to upset children, and to reassure them at every possible
opportunity that they are excelling at whatever they are doing, and their lives will only be limited by
their own dreams. Sooner or later, some of them will realise all that is delusion. We are not the
most important persons in the world, we are not particularly special in a humanistic sense, and the
last person we ought to believe in is ourselves. Scripture assures us we have dignity because we are
created in God’s image, but we are rebels lost in sin who need to surrender to God. A steady diet of
the Word of God, blessed by the Spirit of God, will enable to youngster to turn from self to Christ.
Amy Carmichael once prayed: ‘God, harden me against myself, the coward with pathetic voice who
craves for ease, and rest, and joy. Myself, arch traitor to myself, my hollowest friend, my deadliest
foe, my clog whatever road I go.’ To go from being imprisoned in self to redeemed in Christ is to
take a hard road, but it is the narrow way that leads to life everlasting. In short, teach your children
hard things, because that is the way to wondrous things.