Talk Five: Teach it to your children
Jesus, when asked what was the greatest commandment, replied: ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This would have come as no surprise to the person asking the question. Jesus was quoting from the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible and it was also part of people’s daily prayers. The Bible continues by commanding that we teach these words to our children.
The education of children is a major part of my life and the life of my Church. If, however, I judge the success or otherwise of what we are doing by how much it fulfils the command of the Bible, then I am forced to admit that we are failing terribly. Failing, not because we don’t care about children and their education, we do. But failing because we have got the focus of our education all wrong. For the Bible, the beginning and end of education should be no less than God himself. If children leave school not having learnt about God and not having had the opportunity to enter a relationship with him in the person of Jesus Christ, then as Christians we have failed no matter how much else the child may have learnt.
Sherlock Holmes, in one story, tells Dr Watson that you can tell what an adult is like by looking at their children. It is also true that you can see what parents most value in their lives by observing what they want for their children. What we prioritize in the upbringing and education of our children shows what we prioritize in our own lives. The children are a mirror that reflects what is important to us and what really matters to us. If we prioritize social standing and material wealth that will be reflected in the choices we make for our children. If we prioritize knowing God and his commandments that too will be reflected in the choices we make and how we bring them up. This, as they say, is not rocket science.
Given how we relegate God to the side-lines of our lives or, more often than not, ignore him completely, it is comes as no surprise that God does not play a particularly central role in the education of our children and the choices we make for them. We will normally begin choosing a school for them, for example, by examining the school’s academic performance rather than asking what it teaches about God.
In the same way that the Church is tailoring its message in an attempt to make it more relevant and acceptable to the society in which we live, so too we Christians are tailoring the education we give our children to be like the education on offer in the society around us. There is very little real difference in the curriculum pursued in church schools and that followed in any other school that children may attend.
But if God really is the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’, any education that leaves God out of it cannot be called Christian education. Nor is any education that relegates learning about God to a few lessons of RE and a religious assembly each week - with perhaps the observance of a few festivals thrown in for good measure. If we take God seriously, if we want to love him with all our ‘heart, soul, mind, and strength’, then we will want our children to do so as well. This will mean radically revising our curricula to make God their central concern. It means moving God from the periphery of our children’s education to its centre.
The author Yuval Noah Harari has written: ‘If this generation lacks a comprehensive view of the cosmos, the future of life will be decided at random.’ As the One who created the cosmos, it is only God who can give them the comprehensive view of life that they need. I am not for one moment suggesting that children don’t need to learn to read, write, and add-up. Nor that we should neglect teaching them about the world in which we live. It is to suggest that, as we do so, we must do so as people who believe that as it was God who created the world, it can only be properly studied if we include him in the picture.
An old Catholic catechism asks the question: ‘Why did God make me?’ The answer it gives is: ‘God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.’
Knowing God should be central both to how we educate our children and to how, as adults, we live our lives.