In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
God is His Word. We’ve established that.
Many kids’ curriculums include a lesson on worshipping the true God in contrast to worshipping stone idols. We teach kids about the children of Israel worshipping the golden calf or about the people of Ephesus honoring the goddess Diana.
Often our teaching then moves on to something like, “People today still worship idols. Those idols might be sports, money, fame, etc.”
That last statement is true and something we DO need to teach our kids. We all have those intangible idols in our hearts (and we’ll talk about this in another post), but in our teaching, we sometimes forget an important aspect of idol worship.
Because the way we teach it, we make it sound like stone idols were lost somewhere back with the dinosaurs or Egyptian plagues. (By stone idol, I’m including any substance that is used to form a tangible idol.)
Not true. Idol-worship is as prevalent as ever and out kids need to understand this … because they probably know or will know someone who worships such an actual stone-faced idol.
When my daughter, Kelli, was in third grade I chaperoned one of her class field trips. A stop on the tour was a museum with an entire floor dedicated to life-sized replicas of rooms from houses around the world. Kelli and the three other kids in my group ran from one scene to another, enjoying the different features. Suddenly one of the boys stopped and came up next to me.
“See that room?” he pointed to a display with an idol in the middle of it.
“We have one of those statues at home.” Puzzled, he whispered to me. “I don’t get it. My mom prays to it every day, but it’s just made out of stone. That statue can’t hear her.”
How sad that this 9 year-old could figure out what his mom couldn’t.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. (Psalm 96:5)
All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! (Psalm 97:7)
The word idol in these two verses is from the Hebrew word “elilim.” Elilim means nothing, nonentities, not even important enough to notice.
You will notice that elilim sounds a lot like Elohim, a name of God. The Hebrew scholar J.A. Alexander wrote that the word elilhim “makes it a diminutive of (la) El, analogous to godlings as an expression of contempt.” I like that description.
How can we help our kids understand the nothingness of idols?
Many cities today have religious centers that emphasize idol worship. (Sidenote: I will describe the places only as religious centers, because my purpose is not to come down on any specific person or group of people.) Your kids probably have noticed that the buildings look different and might wonder what is inside. One small girl told me that she “always wanted to knock on the door because it looked like a castle.” The religious center she was talking about is glittery and ornate and therefore, appealing.
Here are some suggestions.
- Visit the religious center. If you (NOT the kids) have an opportunity to tour, take advantage of it. That way you can better explain to the kids what is different from the gods worshipped there and the living God we worship. You will also understand more yourself. You will be able to describe that on the inside of the glittery building food is left to rot in front of strange-looking statues or that stacks of money are left in front of the idols with hopes of achieving riches. Your description will make it more real to the kids. And it will definitely feel more real to you. (My husband and I had the opportunity to go on such a tour with a lady in our church who was taking a comparative religion class at college. )
- Go on their website and read about their religion so you can better talk to the kids. You don’t have to have a six-week series or go deep into the details, but you can explain that they think by praying to the idols, the power of prayer will make the lifeless statues come alive.
- Download pictures of idols to show to the kids. Many are frightening. Choose pictures that you feel are right for your class. (You can find some on commons.wikimedia.org … if you wade through the pictures of American Idol! Make sure you choose pictures that are in the public domain.)
- Discuss ways in which our living God is different from stone idols.
But why? Why do we need to do this? Because this is part of today’s culture; this is part of our world and we need to encourage out kids to guard their hearts. (I recently read a true story about a young girl from a solid Christian home who started attending services at such a religious center and totally embraced the religion to the point where it became physically dangerous.)
These verses in 1 John are great ones to teach our kids (and to remember ourselves). Kids can easily be persuaded by their peer group. We need to arm them with truth
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:20-21)
I taught a lesson on idols to a group of young, elementary students. They all knew where the religious center was located in our town. They passed it two or three times a week. I showed them a few pictures of idols from the website and told them what we had seen when we toured it
A month or so later one of the moms came to me and said, “Thanks for talking to the kids about idols. Every time we pass the center now, my daughter prays for the people inside. She prays that they’ll begin worshipping the true God instead of idols.”
We need to ground our kids in the truth.