The whole gospel: showing kids the big story of God and us in the Bible
As we learn about God, through reading the Bible and hearing people's stories, we gradually build up a picture of him. The story of the prodigal son shows us God's compassion and love; the story of David and Goliath talks about a God who protects his people; the story of the Zacchaeus teaches us about God's forgiveness; the story of Noah depicts a God who doesn't ignore sin. And you will be able to add more examples.
But because God is so vast, trying to understand how all the bits of him work at the same time can feel mind-boggling. If God is so loving, why does he let bad things happen? If God is so powerful, why did he come to earth as a tiny baby? If God is holy, why does he still love me when I'm bad? The Bible is clear that we'll never fully understand God (for example, Romans 11:33-36) but there is a big story in the Bible (which theologians call the 'metanarrative') that helps us make sense of the world and God in it.
And while theologians and bible scholars spend their whole lives studying this great story, it's simple enough for even small people to understand. Rachel Turner explains it in six steps:
- God is love. He made all things from his vast creativity and created each man and woman to be loved by him or and to respond to that love, and, in turn, they are to love all those around him.
- People walked away from God. The world and its people chose, and keep choosing, to separate themselves from God. Instead of loving him and loving other people we choose to love ourselves, our stuff and getting our own way, and to only love the people who give us what we want. This makes us move further away from God and further towards evil. It creates lots of bad things in the world such as people in pain or hunger; people who are lonely or who are treated badly or people trying to fix things themselves with things that don’t work but simply make them sadder or more selfish. The whole of creation is affected and the world no longer works like God designed it to.
- Jesus cleared a way back to closeness with God. These things are hard but we don’t need to be afraid or give up hope because God is bigger than all of them. Through Jesus, and what he did for us when he died and rose again, we have a way back to love and relationships with God and other people that he intended at the start.
- God is active in the world and we can partner with him to transform it. Knowing God and being his friends means we can love him; be forgiven for all the bad stuff that gets into our hearts; and love other people again properly. And if we follow him he invites us to work with him to help us, other people, and the whole world, move away from evil to good. That means working with him to share his story with others; stand up for what is fair; care for the poor and hurting; pray for others; be generous; and much, much more.
- God gives us his power through his Holy Spirit to join with him in putting love at the centre of everything again. The broken stuff in the world is being changed. None of it is as big as God, or beyond being changed by his love as we join in with that work. No one has gone so far that they can’t come to know God again.
- One day it will all be the way God meant it to be forever. When Jesus comes again, the whole world will be completely good and loving again and there will never be anything else that gets in the way of us loving God and each other.
(Six points adapted from ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus’).
This is the whole story. It doesn't have every detail, but it contains the key truths. It is simple enough for a small child to understand and helps us make sense of the world, including where God is and what he's doing.
For example, if a child asks why did God let aunty Zara's house flood, you can explain that although God made the world to be perfect, it got broken, so things like floods happen; but God is always working to fix things, so you'll see people helping her; and we can help too! And one day, when Jesus comes back, the Bible tells us the world will be perfect again, and there won't be any more flooding like that.
Or if a child asks why some people don't know who God is, you can explain that God loves everyone and wants them to be close to him, people chose to walk away from him. And that means that some people went so far away they forgot the story of who God is and now there are lots of people who haven't heard that story or understood it properly. But God still loves them and wants them to know his love, so we get to work with him by showing people his love and telling them his story and that he loves them.
When we grasp the whole gospel, everything else is much easier to understand. Enjoy exploring it with your kids!