God’s rescue plan for children

God’s redemptive plan from creation to eternal restoration is the story of the Bible. It has lots of stories, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

The Bible is the Story of God’s redemption of the world. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to teach the Bible to children as though it were a curriculum on how to be a good person. Every Bible story, whether it is the story of Noah and the ark or David and Goliath, becomes a lesson in good behavior. But the Bible is one Big Story, not a book of rules, an owner’s manual for life, or even a system of doctrines and theologies.

It is the Story of God and it is, quite simply, full of story. Seventy-five percent of the Bible is told through narrative; fifteen percent is in poetic form; only ten percent of the Bible is instructional. Sadly, we’ve reversed these percentages. We spend most of our time teaching children the directives of the Bible and forget to ignite their hearts with the Story of God. It isn’t any wonder our children walk away from the faith. Rules and commandments will not transform a child. But an encounter with the Hero of the Story will.

So, what is this Big Story? Written over hundreds of years, by dozens of authors, the Bible has one gigantic theme: the restoration of the world from brokenness to wholeness. In the beginning, God created the world and there was shalom. Neil Plantinga writes, “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight, is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing wholeness, and delight––a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed… shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

Indeed, the Bible is bookended by this great vision of shalom. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve flourish in a state of wellbeing with God. Humanity’s relationships with God, with self, with one another and with creation are in harmony and at peace. But when sin enters this world, brokenness and corruption become the new normal. In their sin, Adam and Eve hide from God and ever after, humanity’s relationship with God is broken as we too hide in the shadow of our sin. Whereas once these new humans walked the garden naked and unashamed, now sin and shame destroys their self-identity and they cover themselves with fig leaves. In fear, Adam and Eve blame one another for their sinful choices and ever after, our relationships with one another are filled with tension and hate. The brokenness that entered the world with sin even extends to Adam and Eve’s relationship with creation; cast out of the Garden of Eden, they are made ever after to toil on this earth.

Humanity’s relationships with God, self, others, and creation are never again the way they were meant to be. The world has become a place of brokenness. The good news of the Story of God is that God has the grandest rescue plan in history. God’s plan is to mend the entire universe by restoring shalom to all things. Embedded in the first three chapters of Genesis is the promise of this restoration. A redeemer, born of woman, will crush the head of the enemy and all will be made right. Every story in the rest of the Bible unfolds this promise of all things healed and made whole. God’s Story “tells how for the world’s redemption God entered into history, the eternal came into time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm of earth, in the great events of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ,” writes F.F. Bruce.

Every story in the Bible reverberates with God’s salvation plan. We read of one faithful man who saves the degraded world in an ark; of a childless father blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars in order to be a blessing to all humanity; of a king whose throne is established forever when the King of Kings comes to reign. But Noah, Abraham, and David are not the heroes of God’s Story; God is. It is God who breaks into history to save. All God’s people, from Adam to Zerubbabel, partnered with God in tending to the shalom of the world, but it is in Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, that the fullness of salvation came. In Christ, all things are made new. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

How is it then that our world remains so broken? Where is the shalom of God in the global refugee crisis or the disability of a child? How can we proclaim such a hope-filled promise when everything around us appears so very hopeless? Indeed, there is tension between the reality we read and proclaim from God’s Story and the reality of our everyday broken and bruised lives. Theologians call it the “already, not yet” tension. Christ has already conquered sin and death, but the world has not yet experienced its full reality. This is the hope of heaven for which all creation groans in longing. The grand ending of God’s Story depicts a new heaven and a new earth in which there is no more pain and no more sorrow. On that day, God will make His dwelling among His people and shalom will reign.

But this cosmic renewal is yet to be fully realized. The temptation we face, in our longing for this redemption, is to imagine we either must work harder to make things better in the here-and-now or just endure this world until we are released from our mortality into heaven. N.T. Wright calls the former “evolutionary optimism” and the latter “souls in transit”, but neither captures the Christian Gospel. Evolutionary optimists attempt to fix the world through man-made means, but their myth of progress cannot address evil. Meanwhile those who believe humans are simply “souls in transit” see no reason to address any material issues in the world, since they believe only the spiritual matters. Says N.T. Wright, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what the whole world’s waiting for.”

So, we live in this tension between the “already and not yet” and, as God’s people, we pray “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We belong to the kingdom of God and as such, are called to partner with the King to bring His kingdom to earth until the new heaven and the new earth are realized. We do not work in our own strength, but we also do not ignore the work that must be done. We work with God, at God’s invitation and God’s direction, to tend to the shalom of all things. In doing so, we discover, to our surprise, that we have been invited into this grand Story of God. Indeed, we belong in this Story as shalom-tenders.

The Word of God is so much more than a manual on being good. It is the Story of our great God come to mend the universe from sin and shame and to restore things to the way they were meant to be. The good news of the Gospel is that brokenness can made whole by the love of God! This is the Big Story of God children must be told.

Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 17.

Neil Plantinga,
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 6th Ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 1981), 2.
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 107.

As we seek to understand how children might move from brokeness to wholeness in the light of the revelation of God in Jesus and all that asks of us this article is a thought starter for that process. Your comments are welcome.