Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Assumptions about Scriptural Stories: Teaching Children to Think for Themselves

When I got home from work a few years ago, my second daughter immediately called me in to where she was studying for Seminary and asked me to help her understand something. In Seminary that morning, they watched a little video clip about John 4 - the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and my daughter was confused about something in it. Before the video clip played, the students were asked to look for what the scene said about the woman's sin, but my daughter didn't see anything about sin in the clip - or in the chapter itself when she read it again tonight to see what she missed. She assumed the sin they were supposed to see was adultery, but she just couldn't see that as being said in the story.

She asked me two things:

1) if there was sin implied in the story;

2) if not, why the video would ask them to look for it.

I told her, not for the first time, that we tend to read into things (not just scriptures) whatever fits our own perspective and assumptions - that, in a story about a woman who had five previous husbands and currently lives with a man who is not her husband, we assume adultery without reading carefully. We talked about how it would be easy for this woman not to be an adulteress - that, perhaps, she was an older woman who simply had had five husbands die and didn't want to have that happen again with the man with whom she lived at the time. Maybe there was no sex involved at all, especially if they both were old enough to be near the end of their lives. Jesus didn't "call her to repentance" in anything he said, and adultery never was mentioned in any way. Furthermore, even if there was sex involved in the current relationship, that probably would have been fornication, not adultery - given only what is in the story itself.

She asked if the sin might be lying about her situation, but when I pointed out that the woman had answered simply, directly and honestly, she saw that immediately. ("Go get your husband." "I have no husband." "You are telling the truth, since you have had five husbands in the past and aren't married to the man with whom you live now.")

I told her the people who made the video simply accepted their assumptions and the implications that made sense to them - that they didn't think about it critically and credit multiple possibilities.

Before I had time to leave the room, she looked up at me and said:

"Wait, dad. After this, she went to everyone and told them what had happened - and they believed her and went to Jesus to be taught by him. They wouldn't have done that if she had been an adulterer, would they - especially with five marriages?" 

I congratulated her on seeing that possibility, and she said, before I could say it:

"I know. Don't take verses all by themselves. Read the context before you decide what they mean."

I then told my third daughter to get to bed. She asked if she could finish reading the scriptures for the night, and I said fine - as long as she was in bed in five minutes. She looked me in the eye, grinned, and said:

"I can't read the scriptures in five minutes if I'm actually trying to understand them. I need to read and think about each sentence, don't I?"

I love my kids. 

It isn't easy, but it's important to teach our kids how to deal with things that don't make sense to them - and how to think about and try to understand for themselves what they read and hear.

The daughters about whom I am talking were 17 and 14 at the time - and they didn't get this way overnight.

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