- Bryon Morgan
“If only I could make my father understand. I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be so bad.”
- Ariel, “Part of Your World,” The Little Mermaid
“Ariel, listen to me. The human world, it’s a mess. Life under the sea is better…”
- Sebastian, “Under the Sea,” The Little Mermaid
In bright, colorful, and creative ways, stories for children often deal with the most important and puzzling realities of life—who am I and where do I fit in this world? And, like The Little Mermaid so wonderfully illustrates, how do I relate to a world that is such “a mess,” yet also “makes such wonderful things?”
The ‘Big Story’
As parents, we are intimately involved in helping our children form answers to these questions—helping them see “the big picture” of life and how and where they fit into it. Thus, as Christians, helping them find their place in the “big picture” of life means that we help our children find their place in God’s big story, the Bible.
That “big story” weaves a tale of our physical world created by a loving God who declared everything to be good, but that “good” world was subjected to human selfishness (an event we call “Original Sin”), a reality that remains and ultimately left our world in tatters. It is into this world that Jesus came, not to destroy it but to rescue it, leaving us with the hope that one day God will restore our world to its originally “good” condition (John 3:16-17).
Foreigners and Exiles
And so we are people with hope—a hope that makes us “foreigners and exiles,” as the Apostle Peter would say (1 Peter 2:11, cf. 1 Peter 1:1). But why the name calling? And why does it matter for parents?
Peter explains what he means with the follow-up instructions for exiles “to abstain from sinful desires.” Sin is an ethical category that works itself out in the way we behave. Peter is not telling us that we are physical exiles in this world, but rather that we are ethical exiles, living out a foreign lifestyle in a world of selfishness and a culture of consumerism. Truth be told, ever since that Original Sin with Adam and Eve, God’s people have always been exiles in this world, it has just been more obvious at some points than others.
In the 6th Century BCE, the superpower Babylon overran the tiny Jewish nation of Judah, taking God’s people as captives to Babylon. These Jews, exiles in every sense of the word, had to figure out how to live. There were many opinions being shared and ultimately three voices calling out to these exiles, telling them how to live.
The Babylonians called out to the exiles, urging them to join the Babylonian world and leave behind their former identity as God’s people. They were Babylonians now, enjoy this world of power and privilege and just assimilate into the empire!
A prophetic voice cried out amongst the Jews, but God reveals this voice to be the call of false prophets (Jeremiah 14:14). They instructed the Jews to keep out of Babylon, only interacting with the Babylonian world to do business and to selfishly use the city for their personal gain. This voice called God’s people to isolate themselves from the world around them and, thus, remain holy (cf. Jeremiah 29:8-9).
Another prophetic voice called to the exiles—this time it was God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah. God told His people to go into the city, join the Babylonian world, buy houses, have families and to raise Godly children as ethical outsiders amidst an empire of selfishness and greed (Jeremiah 29:4-6). Not only that, but God goes on to say, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Not only are God’s people to live as ethical exiles, but they are to pray that their brutal, new home will experience God’s peace and prosperity.
Are You Listening?
As exiles here and now, do you hear the same three voices calling to you? This selfish and greedy world calls you to lose yourself and your family’s spiritual identity to a self-absorbed life. The false prophets’ call you to isolate your family from this damnable world, loving only God and your own people. But then there is God’s voice, which calls us to participate in the world around us and, as God’s people, restore this broken world through divine hope and love.
To which voice are you listening? With which voice are you nurturing your family’s identity? In our own bright, colorful, and creative ways, we must tell our children God’s “big story” and help them find their own transformative place in a world that needs them so very much.
Bryon Morgan lives with his family in Williamston, MI. An award-winning Christian educator and worldview specialist, he currently pastors as the Director of Church Development with the Colonial Village Baptist Church. He also serves as a consultant for a variety of churches and nonprofit organizations across the United States.