If you visit the BioLogos website regularly, chances are you have at some point experienced a shift in your understanding of Genesis 1-3. And if you have children, you may be wondering how to go about sharing what you’ve learned with them. Maybe you want to try something different from what you were taught as a child, but the resources you have found so helpful are all aimed at adults. Your kids might not be quite ready for the distinctions between functional and material creation, insights into the ancient Near-East cosmic geography, or the comparative literary context of the Old Testament. So, what do you say about Genesis 1-3 to a four year old? Or a third grader? Or a middle schooler?
I share the following thoughts on how I have approached Genesis with my children not to offer a definitive right way to do it, but to provide a starting point for conversation. Hopefully it will stimulate conversation with your spouse, a pastor or children’s minister you trust, or parents on a similar wavelength, and you’ll feel more confident developing an approach that best reflects your own core beliefs and priorities.
Any good lesson begins with a teacher establishing objectives, and the spiritual education of our children is no exception. I found it helpful to think about the different stages of my children’s development and ask: What truths do I want them to internalize about God and his world? What attitudes and feelings do I want to encourage? What responses do I hope to model?
When my children were preschool and young elementary age, we read the creation story and the story of Adam and Eve in Bible storybooks designed for children. We focused on the truth that God created the world and everything in it. He gave everything a special place in his world and a special job to do. The sun, moon, and stars light up the sky and mark the seasons. The birds fill the skies, and the fish fill the sea. The animals fill the land, and the plants make flowers and fruit. God gave people a special job in his good world taking care of everything he made.
When we see God’s creation twinkling, fluttering, splashing, and blossoming away, our hearts want to thank and praise God for being such an amazing Creator. We can worship God by learning about how his world works and about all the different creatures he has made. We can worship God by celebrating the goodness in his beautiful creation with our songs, our dances, or our pictures. We model thankfulness for all the wonderful things God has given us to touch, taste, see, hear, and smell. At this stage the most important thing for me was that my children see God as the source of life, beauty, and goodness, and that they respond with grateful hearts.
In later elementary school we read Genesis 1-3 in modern Bible translations designed for dramatic reading aloud like the New Living Translation or the Voice. We spent more time talking about the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden and the tragic effects that sin has on God’s good creation.1
We see in Genesis 1-3 that we are created to live in harmony and peace with God, with each other, with ourselves, and with the rest of creation. But because of our selfishness and pride all those relationships are damaged and broken. Like Adam and Eve, we all believe lies, we choose our way instead of God’s way, and we end up running away from the God who made us and loves us. We fight with one another and blame each other for our own bad choices. Shame and fear wreak havoc on our hearts. We exploit and harm God’s beautiful creation in our selfishness. Children can see the effects of sin and find examples of all these areas of brokenness in their own experience. We talked about our need to ask for forgiveness for our selfishness and rebellion against God’s way. We trust Jesus to set things right in our own hearts and restore our relationship with God, with others, with creation.2
Also around elementary school age, our kids became aware that some of their friends and teachers had different interpretations of Genesis 1-3. This was an opportunity to model being humble and gracious with Christians who see things differently. It was also a chance to model turning to Bible scholars and teachers when we have questions or want to understand Scripture better. We watch Bible Project videos. We look in commentaries and Bible dictionaries and study Bibles to find out what people who know more than us say. And we recognize that some questions may have multiple answers or answers we aren’t sure about, and that is okay.
As our children have entered middle school, we have begun to read the Genesis accounts in light of their ancient context. By this age, my kids have a concept of culture and some familiarity with the myths and worldviews of ancient people like the Egyptians and Greeks. We can discuss how God told the story of creation in Genesis 1-3 in a way that responded to the culture and worldview of the ancient Hebrew people. People around them believed in many gods who had to fight for dominion over creation. But Genesis told them that there is one God, and he alone created and rules the world. People around them worshipped the sun and the moon. But Genesis said that they are created things under God’s dominion. People around them thought that humans were created to be slaves for the gods and meet their needs. But Genesis said that God created humans out of love and he gave them a place of honor as rulers of his creation.
Although in our time and culture, we might not have the same wrong ideas that need correction, God’s word is powerful in that it can speak truth across time and correct some of our own modern culture’s wrong ideas. Some people around us think that men should not include women in their work or that women would be better off without men. But Genesis says, no, men and women together bear God’s image and are created to work as partners. Some people around us say that marriage and faithfulness are old-fashioned and unnecessary. But Genesis says, no, marriage and monogamy are part of God’s plan for human flourishing.
Some people see creation as something to be exploited for human benefit no matter what damage it causes, and some other people see humans as just another animal with no special rights or dignity. God’s truth in Genesis addresses these errors by calling humans to be faithful stewards of creation as his unique image bearers. As parents, we model turning to God’s word to correct the wrong ideas around us, and we model living under the authority of God’s truth.
Maybe someday I will sit around the dinner table and discuss books by John Walton and Peter Enns with my teenagers and young adult children. But in the meantime, I am trying to tell God’s story well, exemplifying the wonder and respect and obedience it deserves. It is an act of faith to trust that when we are faithful in telling God’s story, God will be faithful to speak through it to our children’s hearts. I also trust that his grace will protect them when my best efforts miss the mark. In the telling, God’s truth continues to shape and challenge me. May you be similarly blessed as you tell the story of the Creator to the children in your life!