“The Kingdom of heaven is like…”
This suggestion is not only for parents but also for preachers and teachers. You should lie to your kids.
Now that I have your attention with that click-bait title, let me clarify: We are constantly trying to teach the truth about God and His world and we use bible memory verses, flannel graphs, over head projectors, and (for the non-denominational, fancy schmancy churches) projectors. But the one tool, the most effective tool, that we leave in the box is lying… or, rather, fiction! I know, it’s not technically lying. We’re not trying to make someone believe to be true something that isn’t; but fiction, at its core, is saying, “I’m lying to you and you are choosing to suspend disbelief.”
This is where the power of fiction shines!
I was a counselor one summer at a christian camp and our lesson for the day was on the sovereignty of God using the biblical character Moses to make the point. After the sermon, I sat with my middle school cabin asking questions and all of them answered according to what they’d seen on the movie, “Prince of Egypt,” and not to what they heard in the lecture.
I realized, then, what a fine line it was to embellish a bible story to make it fun and interesting. It is presenting truth with untruth and the demarkation is often hard to see. We are telling kids, “here’s a bible story that’s true… but not this part and not this part and only some of this part.” Then, when we make application, we say, “And God did this so we should do this also” and your listeners are left wondering if God is getting the same treatment as the story of David and Goliath.
In a fictional world, we don’t have to skate the precipice of historical accuracy, we get to focus on the meaning of the story. We can present the truth about God’s character by first saying, “I’m lying to you.”
There are several benefits to using fiction to teach truths about God. Here are a few:
- The attention grabbing nature of a story – As a kid, I used to tune out the sermon from the moment I heard “Open your bibles to…” all the way to “Amen. You are dismissed.” But if the sermon started with “once upon a time,” I was all ears .
- Make mistakes without the consequences – Fiction allows you to become a character, experience their emotions, and suffer the consequences of their mistakes without actually committing the offenses. I’m sure any of us, if faced with a clown in a gutter offering us a balloon, would not make the same mistake as the kid in the movie It. We’ve been there and done that without having actually, physically suffering for it.
- Learn the truth of the story rather than the story of the truth. – The bible, ultimately, is about God and not the characters we read about in the Bible. While David, Moses, and Deborah make for some really great stories, it’s God’s work in their lives that teach us about Him that should be the focus. Fiction is a great way to maintain focus on God’s character rather than the characters themselves.
- Truth of the story with a relatable character – While this is similar to the point above, it’s still worth pointing out that the characters in the Bible operated in a culture and time very, VERY unlike ours. To accurately understand Ruth and Naomi, you have to understand the tension between Jews and Moabites, Jewish marital customs, laws of inheritance, and the socioeconomic nature of the characters in play. As a human living in the 21st century, we get hung up on the ridiculous, foreign nature of their customs but in a fictional world with similar rules, it’s a given. We accept them and let the story play out and get to focus on the redemptive aspects of a Boaz scenario.
- Disarming nature of a story – No one likes to feel pressured into making a decision. The best kind of salesman makes you think you made the decision (well played, man who up-sold me to leather seats). The same goes with spiritual decisions: we don’t want to feel forced into it but give us a good story and we’ll be running down the proverbial aisle in record time. I hate spiders more than anything else in the world, but even I gave the can of Raid a rest after reading Charlotte’s Webb.
I think there’s a good reason Jesus used fiction a lot when teaching here on earth. He created memorable characters that spoke directly to the the people of His day. God himself is the ultimate creator and we mirror his image when we create. What better way to celebrate His divine creativity than to create stories that highlight his character.