Peace Theology

Should We Read Stories that Contain Violence to Our Children?

My last post leads to a big problem. In it I talked about “the myth of redemptive violence,” the belief that violence is the way to bring about peace. WWI, naively labeled “the war to end all wars,” stands as the protoypical example. We saw how this myth is embedded in stories, including children’s stories where the good guy vanquishes an enemy in order to bring about peace i.e., everyone “lives happily ever after.” And here the problem arises. Would a serious Christ-follower then have to throw out all stories to follow Christ’s way of nonviolence? I say “all stories” because some level of violence or conflict is an essential element of a story. Have you ever read a decent story where there was no conflict? They don’t exist.

Embedded in the very fabric of story is the nature of the world we were born into– a world of conflict, violence and struggle. The Bible makes it clear that we are, in fact, in a war; it’s just not against physical enemies. “Our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We know we’re in a war and, more importantly, we want to fight. We want to see the good triumph and evil be overcome. Ironically, stories involving conflict will always attract us because we want to see conflict vanquished. We long for the kingdom that is not of this world with its true, lasting peace.

Notice in the verse quoted above the enemies we fight against, “rulers,” “authorities,” “cosmic powers.” Most astonishly, it says they’re “in the heavenly places.” Clearly, much of the theatre of this war lies far above our comprehension. We can’t see our enemies, but our minds only understand through what they can picture. How then can we have any understanding of the conflict we are involved in? We need concrete images to understand spiritual realities. Stories provide a means of making this spiritual war somehow more real and understandable. 

The story that shapes my picture of this invisible war more than any other is The Lord of the Rings. Like hobbits we are caught up in a battle being waged against us by gigantic forces much stronger than we are and which we know very little about. Indeed, we see through a glass darkly. However, despite our ignorance of what’s going on, God calls us to play a significant part in this monumental struggle of good and evil. When I feel an internal battle going on, I remember Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor and I remember their success against all odds. And I know I’m involved in a bigger struggle, and yes, there are dark forces that threaten, but I’m not alone. There are also gigantic forces for good that have given me a mission to carry out. I feel strengthened for the fight.

Therefore, we can read some stories that contain violence even to our children. Discernment, of course, is required. Firstly, they should be stories that exemplify virtues such as courage, self-sacrifice, longsuffering etc., stories that glorify the good. Secondly, they should not sensationalize violence or indulge in it gratuitously. And thirdly, we must continually remind ourselves that such stories are only physical pictures of a spiritual reality. 

In the case of children, we may have to tell them that we can’t say much about this invisible war right now, but that we’ll explain more later when they can understand. We can ask God for wisdom on this, wisdom such as Corrie ten Boom’s father had when she asked him about sex as a young girl. They were about to disembark from a train and Corrie’s father put his suitcase on the floor in front of her.

“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

“It’s too heavy,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little daughter to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

And I was satisfied.  More than satisfied, wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions, for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.

As with sexuality, how much we say to children about the forces of darkness requires wisdom. In addition to praying for wisdom, I suggest this is something small groups of parents should discuss together.

In our next post, we will consider the irony that the gospel of peace necessitates war.


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