We're doing the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in Sunday School this week. It raises the difficult question many Sunday School leaders struggle with - which scary parts of the Bible to present to children, and which to hide. I have the impulse to present only the stories that are easy to understand, only the ones that present God as loving and kind, the ones in which no anti-Semitism could be implied, the ones which have not been seized upon by the Religious Right as their property and theirs alone. And I know that I can't give in to that impulse.
Because to take out the scary stuff and the hard stuff means that we're left with a story that has no power, but rather a pre-digested piece of feel-good mush, which our kids will rightly reject. I know this, theoretically, and am comfortable with it around the stories of the crucifixion, the prophesies of the Coming Kingdom, and the story of the Exodus. But with some of the lesser-known stories, I debate whether to include them at all, and if so, which details to include (is it enough that Esther saves her people, or should Haman be hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai? Usually I go with the latter, but I always look at the most sensitive child in my group and wonder if I'm doing the right thing).
We have a window in our church of the sacrifice of Isaac. For Christians, it prefigures the passion of Christ - God spared Abraham's son but did not flinch from offering his own. It has a potent place in our cultural imagination, and to leave it out would deprive children of a crucial part of the story of the patriarchs.
But it's fraught with difficulties. How far do you go? Do you give five-year-old children the image of a parent standing over a beloved child, wielding a knife? Will they process it in the safe, healthy way they process gruesome images from fairy tales (wolf swallows granny) or in the possibly terrifying way they process news stories that scare them? Which details am I editing out for the sake of the children, and which am I editing out in my squeamishness? Am I scared of offending parents if I don't sanitise all the scary bits out of the Bible, and do I give into that desire to the detriment of the kids?
I don't have the answers. My general rule of thumb is to ask, "what does this story contribute to the story of salvation, the overall arc of the Bible?" and then use that to decide a) whether to include it in our curriculum this year, and b) which parts of it are most important. But I'd be interested to hear from others how you handle this issue.