My most beloved possession in early elementary school was not a stuffed animal, or a security blanket, or a favorite toy. It was my Beginner’s Bible. (My parents probably knew early on I would one day go to seminary.) No one remembers how many times I read through that Bible. Lovingly read to me first by my mother, it didn’t take long for me to begin reading the book myself. The biggest book that I owned, I remember being so proud after reading it straight through… all by myself.
I can still picture the illustrations in my head. Beloved stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Daniel and the lions’ den, the birth of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand and so many more. In the pages of this book I could imagine myself in the stories of God’s people and dream about the ways that God might use me.
I open my Beginner’s Bible now and I can find its inadequacies. The pictures of the people have some variety in skin colors, but not enough. The stories, written for a child, leave out some of the difficult or inconvenient parts of the narrative. There’s nothing in this Bible from the epistles and very little from the prophets. But, for me, this book introduced me to God’s story and I will always treasure it.
What a gift I was given in starting to read the Bible so young. Never did I think that the Bible was only for adults, something inaccessible to me. My love of Scripture and reading stories is rooted, I think, in this simple children’s Bible.
I don’t often give children’s messages, but when I do I remember wise advice given by Rodger Nishioka, one of my professors at Columbia Theological Seminary. He said the most important thing we can do in a children’s sermon is to tell the biblical story. It’s that simple. Tell the story and perhaps show some pictures. By doing this we invite children into the story of God’s love for God’s people. We can have them wonder what it might have smelled like to be on Noah’s ark or what David might have been thinking as he approached Goliath or what Jonah might have felt as he ran away from God. We can invite them to ask questions without worrying about having all the answers. A good story doesn’t answer all of the questions, it allows us to leave still wondering about what it all means and how we fit in the narrative.
Reading the Bible is a lifelong endeavor. We call it God’s living word for a reason. It continues to amaze me how each time I read a familiar story, I hear and see new things. These stories shape my life and continue to challenge and deepen my relationship with God.
As I child, I hoped to emulate the trust of Abraham, the loyalty of Ruth, or the bravery of Daniel. But I also heard about a God who never gave up on God’s people, no matter how often they messed up. A God who kept forgiving, no matter how many times people tried to challenge. A God who kept persistently going after God’s people, no matter how many times they turned away.
I’ve struggled with the Bible since then; there are texts of terror found in the pages of that book. Scripture is messy, shocking and violent, as well as inspiring. There are no easy answers within its pages. But that children’s Bible taught me that I can open up my imagination as I read Scripture, bring my questions and my doubts, and by the power of the Holy Spirit be challenged and inspired by its holy words and holy stories. And so I still sing the words of my childhood, “Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.”
KRISTIN STROBLE serves as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio. She enjoys coffee, books, running and spending time outdoors.