Scary stories from a lovely place
At the moment the kids are a bit obsessed with ‘the Viking book’. It’s actually not about Vikings, but a kids book retelling the Old Testament bible story of Jacob’s favourite son, Joseph.
Like most parts of the Old Testament it has questionable elements for a children’s story – human trafficking, wrongful imprisonment, execution, sexual intrigue, famine and slavery. Whilst not as bad as Noah’s Ark, mankind don’t all drown in this one, its still not super appropriate for a pre-bed cosy reading session.
The Viking Joseph book leaves out or glosses over the worst bits of the story, or just doesn’t explain them. The page with Joseph and the King’s cupbearer in jail intrigues the kids, they always ask what the chains are around their limbs (the hanging of the King’s baker isn’t included). But I’m incredibly disappointed that it doesn’t include the wonderful, profound conclusion that the original does.
At the end of Genesis 50, Jacob has died and his sons are worried that Joseph will be angry at them for all the wrong they did many years before – namely selling him to people traffickers and making him lose out on many years of time with his father. But Joseph isn’t mad, even though he well could be, but comforts his weeping brothers – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50v20-21). It’s a beautiful moment, and a crucial biblical truth in our relationship with God that is echoed in much of the writing in the New Testament. I really don’t see why this couldn’t have been included? I can even picture the cute illustration of Viking-esque brothers wiping their eyes and hugging the princely Joseph.
Before I became a parent I was prepared for the moral onslaught of kids bible stories, especially the Old Testament ones. I had done enough children’s ministry (only a tiny bit) to know that according to bible stories kids need to be good like Noah, (Genesis 6v9) pretty like Rachel (Genesis 29v17), obedient like Jonah (Jonah 2) and brave like David (1 Samuel 17). What any kids retelling of these stories will exclude is that Noah drank too much and lounged around without undies on, God chose Rachel’s less attractive sister Leah to be in the lineage of his son Jesus, Jonah ignored God before he was swallowed by the fish and afterwards sat under a tree and whined, and David was a murdering, and perhaps a raping, philanderer. Nice.
The Old Testament is a terrible place to look for examples of morality or Godliness, but repeatedly this is where kids are sent. Rather it is a rich, (and let’s face it oftentimes confusing), tapestry of God’s never-ending mercy, goodness, and wisdom, and his plan to send Jesus to save the world, just like at the conclusion of Joseph’s story. This is what I wish was repeated verbatim in Sunday School and in kids picture bible story books, not ‘be good like this guy is good’, but ‘God is good, all the time’.