There is a problem for most teaching parents when dealing with the dark side of history (and the headlines.) Plain and simple, history is morbid, as is present day! Page after page, newscast after newscast—history and modern times are loaded with stories of death, destruction, and despair. (I don’t need to tell you!)
Ironically, our younger students (Kindergarten to 2nd grade) aren’t all that disturbed by this truth because they like blood, guts, and the stench of death! At least they think they do—they’re children. In their naivety, young children commonly glamorize war and chivalry with the good guys fighting the bad guys. Now, the bad guys might be aliens or robots, but to a child, the roles of heroes and villains are clear cut. In fact, we call this behavior “child’s play.” Unless a young child has suddenly suffered great personal loss, which is another topic, then recognizing good and evil with little ones is not our problem with history or current events.
Our problem as parents comes further down the road when our kids are in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade and past the stage of pretending. You may have noticed this phenomenon: it seems that around age 11 students are suddenly too old to brush off evil and too young to process it. (Personally, I love 11-year olds! They’re so raw.) The reality they’re grappling with is the biblical truth that mankind is corrupt, immoral, and subject to the fall. (Genesis 3:16-24; Romans 3:10)
When did you learn about the Holocaust?
Consider your childhood for a minute. Do you remember how old you were when you first learned about the Holocaust? I’m guessing I was in about 5th grade when I first saw those horrible black and white images of gaunt prisoners and emaciated corpses. I’m not sure what terrified me more—the barely living or the piles of the dead! Either way, those photographs were terrifying. I was too old to gloss over them and too young to make sense of them. But I wondered as a child (and sometimes still do) if I was ever going to face anything that horrifying in my own life. It was a legitimate deep life question.
Deep Life Questions
For dealing with the dark side of history, past or present, that’s what I want to direct you to—the deep life questions our students will ask, or should ask, or that you can prompt them to ask about life, death, and eternity. Some would call this the practice of catechism, which is a series of questions and answers that teach the Christian faith. To set the scene, let me offer a list of disturbing stories from history. As you read these, imagine yourself with an 11-year old by your side.
- From ancient times, what do you say about the Great Flood—and the mass destruction of mankind? Or of Herod—and the massacre of the innocents?
- From the first century and middle ages, what do you say about Mt. Vesuvius—that buried the city of Pompeii? Or of Joan of Arc—who was burned at the stake for no “good reason?”
- From the Renaissance and Reformation, what do you say about the Scottish Covenanters—who were persecuted for their Christian faith? Or of the Atlantic slave trade—with deep ramifications to this day?
- From modern history, what do you say about the French Revolution—with mass death by the guillotine? Or the Rape of Nanking—a vile incident in Chinese history?
Let me insert one important thought here. Some history is so dark, that you may choose to skip over it. Using the Rape of Nanking as an example, I mentioned the event only by name in The Mystery of History Volume IV to provide context for a war between China and Japan. I did not describe the offensive details that contributed to the naming of the event! So, yes, we will screen some parts of history from our students using wisdom and discernment.
But what about the tough topics you can’t get around? How do we deal with the dark side of “everyday” history or modern hardship that is laced with doom and gloom? Our responses will vary, because you know your children best, but I have a three-part formula that might help.
- Ask a deep life question.
- Listen to the student’s heart.
- Offer biblical answers.
For application, think back on the list of disturbing stories I provided. Now, imagine asking your student(s) any of the following life questions, listening to their response, and giving them a biblical truth with scripture.
Question: Is God in control of all events in history?
Biblical truth: Yes, God is sovereign.
Scripture: “The Lord has made all for Himself. Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” Proverbs 16:4
Question: Why is there good and evil?
Biblical truth: God allowed humankind to know good and evil as a result of the fall.
Scripture: “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” Genesis 3:22
Question: What are the plans of the devil?
Biblical truth: The devil seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.
Scripture: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” John 10:10
Question: What is God’s plan for the devil?
Biblical truth: God will end the deception of the devil.
Scripture: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:10
Question: What happens when we die?
Biblical truth: Believers experience everlasting life; non-believers experience God’s wrath.
Scripture: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36
Question: How are we saved?
Biblical truth: We are saved by belief in the resurrection and our confession of Jesus as Lord.
Scripture: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
The 2020 Pandemic
In regard to the 2020 pandemic, I certainly don’t have the answers—nor do the experts who disagree on what we should or shouldn’t be doing! But I thought of three catechism-style life questions that might apply to the situation or at least serve as conversation starters during this unprecedented time.
Question: Are we ever guaranteed another day of life?
Biblical truth: No, life comes to an end at a time we cannot know.
Scripture: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It’s even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14
Question: Why does life have value?
Biblical truth: Life has value because mankind is made in the image of God.
Scripture: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27
Question: Why do we do some things for the greater good?
Biblical truth: We are to care for the weak and our neighbor.
Scripture: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” Romans 15:1-2
Dealing with the DARK SIDE of History
To summarize, how do we deal with the dark side of history and the headlines? There’s no easy way to handle death and despair, but we ought not shy away from the opportunity to ask deep life questions, really listen to our students, and offer biblical truths with God’s Word to back them up. History and hardships are thinly veiled subjects! Use this “low hanging fruit” to step away from the ordinary, reach the hearts of your students, and ultimately lead them to the Lord!
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (Psalm 46:1-3)