We all have them—awkward moments in children’s ministry:
- Maybe it’s when you realize none of the kids have been paying attention to what you’ve been saying for the last ten minutes; or
- when you realize how awful your rhyming scheme for your points truly is (and not just because you came up with it the night before); or
- you realize, as you’re teaching, that this is probably the first time any of the kids in the room have ever heard the concept of God’s wrath.
That was my Sunday last weekend. I was teaching a lesson on Zephaniah, an Old Testament book where the wrath of God being poured out plays heavily in its message.
“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth… I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” the book begins (Zephaniah 1:2-3). And the temperature only turns up from there as oracle after oracle is spoken to the people of Judah, warning them to watch for the day of the Lord, and to repent of their sins.
I’ll admit, teaching this was awkward.
Not because I don’t believe it—in fact, I think we’ve failed to adequately do the subject justice, especially in the last 20 or so years—but because it seemed pretty clear that this was one of the first times the kids had heard much of anything about God’s wrath.
Many of the kids knew sin is bad and that it separates us from God… but it was in an abstract way. The way that suggests God doesn’t really have feelings toward sin. And then I had to go and shatter the glass.
Or rather, the Bible did. I was just the one teaching it.
As we talked about this, that God’s wrath would be poured out, and that God was warning his people to give them an opportunity to repent, one of the kids said something very interesting.
“God knew if he did this, he’d be doing something bad, so maybe that’s why he was warning them…”
Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes.
What’s fascinating is how quickly we try to start rationalizing, or make excuses, even making up ideas about why God would punish sin and tell people he’s going to to it. No matter how old we are, we naturally squirm at the idea of God’s wrath—mostly because we think of God’s feelings as being the same as our own.1 So when we think of God’s anger, we see it in light of our own, or our parents’. We know that we overreact, or go a bit too far sometimes. We know our anger doesn’t always produce good results, and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God being righteously angry.
So I asked this nine-year-old, “But is anything God does bad?”
“No,” he said.
“Because everything God does is good.”
“So… is God being angry and punishing sin a good thing or a bad thing?”
And then he started to get it.
Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward.
It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges.
But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.
Although I certainly doubt this nine-year-old boy was thinking on that level. He was just saying what made sense to him as a possible explanation.